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Mom who killed 5-year-old AJ Freund sentenced to 35 years in prison


An Illinois mother who admitted to killing her 5-year-old son last year was sentenced Friday to 35 years behind bars.

JoAnn Cunningham, 37 faced between 20 and 60 years in prison for the beating death of her son, Andrew “AJ” Freund, which she pleaded guilty to in December, The Associated Press reports.

“AJ was an innocent, precious little boy whose life was taken from him after he endured, what we now know, was much pain and suffering,” a statement from family members read. “We had expected JoAnn would pay for that by spending her natural life in prison.”

“I am living proof of what physical and mental abuse can create,” Cunningham said Thursday while pleading for justice from McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt, all the while discussing how it had been a “privilege” to be AJ’s mother.

“She had beaten this little boy to the edge of death … locked in his room [where] he had to endure the bleak process of death all by himself,” McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally countered.

On Friday, Wilbrandt conceded that the woman had endured a “difficult life,” which included “drug-addled filth,” in spite of trying to get treatment for addiction.

“While her addictions do not justify her appalling behavior towards her own son, they perhaps do explain why she engaged in … the inhumane, repulsive and frankly shocking course of conduct that ended her child’s young life,” he said.

AJ first made headlines when he went missing in April 2019, though cops didn’t believe he’d been abducted. Within two days of that assertion, authorities said Cunningham was still “uncooperative with police.”

Both Cunningham and AJ’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., 61, were charged in his murder by the end of that month. Freund has pleaded not guilty and continues to await trial.

The little boy’s body was found in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic near the family’s home in Crystal Lake, about 54 miles northwest of Chicago.

AJ had been known to state child welfare workers nearly his entire life, beginning with his birth, when both he and Cunningham had opiates in their systems.

Though he was removed from his parents’ custody by Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services, he was back with his monstrous mom about 20 months later.

Though child welfare workers often visited the family’s residence, they determined there was no reason to take the youngster from his parents.

In December 2018, just months before his murder, AJ said that a bruise on his hip was due to the family dog, before he suggested another explanation.

“Maybe someone hit me with a belt,” AJ told the emergency room physician, according to DCFS records. “Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

With News Wire Services