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McHenry County judge to weigh whether petition filed by AJ Freund’s mother warrants next steps

JoAnn Cunningham claims she hallucinated, heard demons at the time she killed her son

JoAnn Cunningham, mother of missing 5 year old Andrew "AJ" Freund, holds back tears April 19, 2019, as she talks with the media outside Cunningham's home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake.

A McHenry County judge said Friday that he has 90 days to decide whether the post-conviction petition filed by a Crystal Lake woman serving 35 years in prison for killing her 5-year-old son has merit.

In 2020, Judge Robert Wilbrandt sentenced JoAnn Cunningham to 35 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of her son, 5-year-old AJ Freund.

Wilbrandt now must decide whether a petition Cunningham filed seeking relief is “adequate” and should advance to the next steps.

If Wilbrandt finds her claims are warranted, he then would assign Cunningham an attorney and allow the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office to provide its input, Wilbrandt said during a hearing Friday. The third step would be to set a hearing for arguments on the petition, allowing Cunningham to appear either in person or remotely from the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, where she is being housed.

If granted, a post-conviction petition seeking relief could result in Cunningham’s guilty plea and sentence being set aside, and a date could be set for trial.

Prayer cards for AJ Freund, 5, sit on a table next to the visitor guestbook May 3, 2019, at Davenport Funeral Home in Crystal Lake.

Cunningham, 39, claimed in her petition that, among other issues, she did not receive adequate counsel, and that at the time she killed her son she was suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. She claimed to have been seeing demons and believed her son was possessed by a demon. She said she sought an exorcism from a priest, a chaplain and AJ’s father, Andrew Freund.

At the time of AJ’s death, Cunningham was pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl while housed in the McHenry County Jail. The child and another son, who was about two years younger than AJ, were put into foster care.

Joann Cunningham

Andrew Freund pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a child and concealment of a homicidal death. The 63-year-old man, a former attorney who met Cunningham while helping her with her divorce, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He is housed at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton.

Wilbrandt set June 1 for the next date when he would announce his decision; however, the judge said he could decide sooner.

Authorities have said that on April 15, 2019, Cunningham became angry with her son when she found soiled underwear he tried to hide. She then forced the child to stand in a cold shower for at least 20 minutes; hit him in the head with the shower head; and put him to bed cold, wet and naked, where he soon died.

According to reports at the time, Freund then put the child’s body in a storage container in the basement of their home at 94 Dole Ave., which has since been torn down. Days later, he took the boy’s body and buried it in a shallow grave in Woodstock.

Andrew T. Freund

On April 18, 2019, Freund made a phone call to police saying his son was missing. For a week, the community, police from agencies across the state and agents from the FBI searched for the child.

Freund eventually admitted to police AJ was dead and led them to the body. Freund and Cunningham both were arrested and charged in connection with their son’s death.

Cunningham, represented by attorneys from the McHenry County Public Defender’s Office, had undergone psychological evaluations before she entered a guilty plea.