Illinois mother pleads guilty in beating death of boy, 5

December 5, 2019 GMT


An Illinois woman charged in the beating death of her 5-year-old son pleaded guilty to murder Thursday.

At a hearing in the McHenry County courthouse, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, entered her plea in the April slaying of Andrew “AJ” Freund. Prosecutors dropped other charges against her, according to the Chicago Tribune. She faces 20 to 60 years in prison when she returns to court for sentencing. No date for sentencing was set.


Cunningham, who along with the boy’s father, Andrew Freund, was charged with first-degree murder and other crimes, did not explain her plea. When asked by Judge Robert Wilbrandt, if she had anything to say, she said, “Nothing at this time, your honor.”

In April, the story of AJ Freund generated national media coverage after a report by the boy’s father that he was missing from the family’s Crystal Lake house prompted a massive search by area residents and several law enforcement agencies.

Detectives later confronted him with a video made on Cunningham’s cellphone dated March 4 that showed the boy, his body bruised and the voice of a woman believed to be Cunningham berating the child for urinating on the bed. Freund, 60, then led police to a shallow grave where the boy was buried in a wooded area nearby. The two, who are not married, were subsequently charged with first-degree murder and ordered held on $5 million bail each.

The state’s attorney did not return a call from The Associated Press about the plea and it remains unclear if Cunningham will testify against Freund.

There are indications that Freund pinned much of the responsibility for the treatment of the boy on Cunningham. In an affidavit from a sheriff’s detective that was made public in May, Freund said he and Cunningham forced AJ to take a cold shower shortly before his death as punishment for lying about soiling his underwear. The detective wrote that Freund told him that the couple used cold showers as punishment after Freund persuaded Cunningham to stop beating their son.

According to the affidavit, Freund said they put the boy to bed “cold, wet and naked.” After Cunningham found him unresponsive, Freund put the boy’s body in a plastic container, which they later buried, Freund said.

An autopsy revealed that AJ died from multiple blunt force injuries to his head.