Mother of beaten Illinois 5-year-old pleads guilty to murder

JoAnn Cunningham, the mother of 5-year-old AJ Freund, pictured here, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in the child's death on Thursday. File Photo courtesy of Crystal Lake Police Department/Facebook

Dec. 5 (UPI) — The mother of a 5-year-old Illinois boy whose beaten body was discovered after he was missing for a week pleaded guilty to murder Thursday.

JoAnn Cunningham, the mother of Andrew “AJ” Freund, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, saying she struck the child sometime between April 15 and April 17 with the awareness that it would create a “strong probability of death or great bodily harm.”

Additional charges, including murder, concealment of a body, aggravated domestic abuse of a child younger than 13, reckless conduct, unlawful restraint and child endangerment as well as language describing the boy’s death as “brutal and heinous,” were dropped as part of the plea deal.

As a result, Cunningham faces between 20 years and 60 years in prison when sentenced next year.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said his office will seek a maximum sentence. Cunningham will be required to serve the full sentence and will not be eligible for parole.

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Kenneally added his office had been negotiating with Cunningham but did not clarify if the plea deal would require her to testify against her husband, Andrew Freund Sr.

Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, both initially pleaded not guilty to a combined 41 charges in the case in May and both have been held on $5 million bond since being charged.

The McHenry County Coroner’s Office said AJ died of injuries to his skull and brain sustained from blunt-force trauma. His body was found wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave in Woodstock, Ill.

AJ’s father reported him missing to police April 18, telling the 911 dispatch operator he had last seen his son the night before when he put him to bed. Court documents said the child’s parents forced him to remain “in a cold shower for an extended period of time” before he was struck to death on April 15.

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