Judge says woman lived in ‘drug-ad­dled filth — ly­ing, cheat­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing her way through life while ter­ror­iz­ing her small son’

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHCAGO SUN TIMES -

WOOD­STOCK — A north­ern Illi­nois woman who sub­jected her young son to years of phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse cul­mi­nat­ing in his beat­ing death last year was sen­tenced to 35 years in prison on Fri­day.

JoAnn Cun­ning­ham pleaded guilty to first-de­gree mur­der in De­cem­ber in the killing of her 5-yearold son, An­drew “AJ” Fre­und. Eight months ear­lier, po­lice un­cov­ered the boy’s bat­tered body, wrapped in plas­tic and con­cealed in a shal­low grave near the fam­ily’s home in Crys­tal Lake.

Cun­ning­ham, her face cov­ered by a sur­gi­cal mask, did not vis­i­bly re­act in the court­room af­ter McHenry County Judge Robert Wil­brandt’s rul­ing.

Cun­ning­ham faced be­tween 20 to 60 years in prison. She pleaded for mercy from the judge on Thurs­day, por­tray­ing her­self as a lov­ing mother who misses her son.

Wil­brandt ac­knowl­edged that Cun­ning­ham had a “dif­fi­cult life,” in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion to drugs de­spite ef­forts to get treat­ment.

“She lapsed back into liv­ing in what can only be de­scribed as drug-ad­dled filth — ly­ing, cheat­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing her way through life while ter­ror­iz­ing her small son,” he said. “While her ad­dic­tions do not jus­tify her ap­palling be­hav­ior to­wards her own son, they per­haps do help ex­plain why she en­gaged in ... the in­hu­mane, re­pul­sive and frankly shock­ing course of con­duct that ended her child’s young life.”

Pros­e­cu­tors had asked the judge to im­pose the max­i­mum 60year sen­tence so the 37-year-old mother would die in state prison. Wil­brandt said he con­sid­ered that Cun­ning­ham did not plead guilty to a charge of wan­ton cru­elty or a charge that spec­i­fied she in­tended to kill her son.

In a state­ment re­leased by their at­tor­ney on Fri­day, fam­ily mem­bers said they were dis­ap­pointed by the sen­tence.

“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,” the state­ment said. “We had ex­pected JoAnn would pay for that by spend­ing her nat­u­ral life in prison.”

Pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented ev­i­dence that Cun­ning­ham phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally abused AJ for years be­fore the beat­ing that killed him. A po­lice of­fi­cer who went to the fam­ily’s home af­ter AJ was re­ported miss­ing de­scribed the stench of the garbage-strewn house.

McHenry County State’s At­tor­ney Pa­trick Ken­neally said AJ died alone, pad­locked in­side his bed­room as his brain swelled and his own blood choked him.

Court doc­u­ments tell of a boy who was in dan­ger his en­tire life. Tests at birth re­vealed he and his mother had opi­ates in their sys­tems, prompt­ing the state’s De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices to take the baby into cus­tody be­fore re­turn­ing him to them some 20 months later.

The fam­ily home was re­peat­edly vis­ited by state child wel­fare work­ers who con­cluded there was no rea­son to re­move AJ.

Wil­brandt said he hoped ex­am­in­ing the “his­tory and the missed sig­nals” in AJ’s case would spare other chil­dren “the hor­ri­fy­ing re­sult.”

“Miss Cun­ning­ham was re­spon­si­ble for that life and now she must be re­spon­si­ble for his death,” he said.

AJ’s fa­ther, 61-year-old An­drew Fre­und Sr., has been charged with first-de­gree mur­der. He pleaded not guilty and is await­ing trial.

An­drew ‘‘AJ’’ Fre­und


JoAnn Cun­ning­ham, 37, re­acts Fri­day as a judge sen­tences her to 35 years in prison for killing her son.


An­drew “AJ” Fre­und, 5, was killed last year in the far north­west sub­urbs.

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