Slain 5-year-old’s fa­ther takes deal, gets 30 years

AJ Fre­und’s dad pleads guilty to re­duced charges

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY DON BAB­WIN

A north­ern Illi­nois man who was charged with mur­der for his role in the beat­ing death of his 5-year-old son pleaded guilty Fri­day to re­duced charges and was sen­tenced to 30 years in prison.

At a brief hear­ing, Andrew Fre­und Sr. pleaded guilty to felony charges of ag­gra­vated bat­tery of a child, in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and con­ceal­ment of a homi­ci­dal death. In ex­change, pros­e­cu­tors agreed to drop first­de­gree mur­der charges against him in the April 2019 death of Andrew “AJ” Fre­und.

The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cun­ning­ham, pleaded guilty in De­cem­ber to first-de­gree mur­der and was sen­tenced in July to 35 years in prison.

The plea also calls for Fre­und to co­op­er­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the case against two for­mer state child wel­fare work­ers ac­cused of fail­ing to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of abuse of the boy. They were re­cently charged with felony counts of en­dan­ger­ing the life of a child and reck­less con­duct.

Fre­und has long main­tained that Cun­ning­ham killed the boy, and the plea agree­ment in­di­cates that pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve him. Be­sides say­ing, “Yes, your honor,” when McHenry County Judge Robert Wil­brandt asked him if he was plead­ing guilty to the re­duced charges, Fre­und did not make a state­ment. The judge sen­tenced him to 30 years in prison but ex­plained that be­cause of sen­tenc­ing rules, Fre­und could be re­leased af­ter serv­ing less than 19 years. He said the sen­tences for each count must be served con­sec­u­tively.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, a pros­e­cu­tor read state­ments that Fre­und had made to de­tec­tives in which he said he was not present when Cun­ning­ham killed the boy. He said he was called on April 15 of last year to the house by Cun­ning­ham, who told him AJ wasn’t breath­ing. He said that af­ter his un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to re­vive the boy, he kept the body in a plas­tic tote in the base­ment of the fam­ily’s Crys­tal Lake house be­fore bury­ing the boy in a plas­tic sheet two days later.

Days af­ter re­port­ing his son miss­ing, Fre­und led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to the spot where the boy’s body was buried in a shal­low grave.

Fre­und im­me­di­ately tried to min­i­mize his role in the boy’s death. When con­fronted about a video on Cun­ning­ham’s cell­phone show­ing AJ, bruised and cov­ered in ban­dages, ly­ing naked on a mat­tress with a woman be­lieved to be Cun­ning­ham be­rat­ing him for wet­ting his bed, Fre­und told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that it was Cun­ning­ham who had beaten him. He told de­tec­tives that pre­vi­ously he had sug­gested to Cun­ning­ham that rather than beat the boy to pun­ish him, he should be forced to take cold show­ers.

At the same time, au­thor­i­ties had chill­ing ev­i­dence that at the very least Fre­und had en­gaged in an elab­o­rate ef­fort to cover up the slay­ing. That be­gan with his fran­tic 911 call — at a time he knew the boy was al­ready dead — in which he re­ported his son miss­ing.

“We’ve checked clos­ets, the base­ment, the garage, ev­ery­where,” Fre­und told the dis­patcher, adding that he had scoured the park, a nearby school and a “lo­cal gas sta­tion down here where we some­times take him to buy treats.”

MATTHEW APGAR/NORTH­WEST HER­ALD VIA AP

Tracy Kotz­man holds a sign with photos of Andrew ‘‘AJ’’ Fre­und on Fri­day in Wood­stock.

JoAnn Cun­ning­ham

Andrew Fre­und Sr.

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