A McHenry County judge dismissed Wednesday a post-conviction petition filed by JoAnn Cunningham, who pleaded guilty more than two years ago to first-degree murder of her 5-year-old son AJ Freund.
Here is a timeline of events from when Freund was first reported missing, through Cunningham’s murder plea in December 2019 to her post-conviction petition this week.
Records show that police and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services had visited the Freund home on Dole Avenue multiple times over the course of AJ's short life, often finding living conditions filthy.
Below is a timeline of events as they occurred, beginning the first known time that DCFS had contact with Cunningham, before AJ was even born.
• June 7, 2012: DCFS received a call alleging inadequate supervision. Cunningham was accused of abusing prescription drugs and neglecting her foster child. The case was labeled “unfounded,” meaning the agency did not find credible evidence of abuse or neglect.
• Dec. 24, 2012: DCFS received a call alleging environmental neglect and an injurious environment causing danger to her oldest son, who now lives with a different family. Cunningham was accused of abusing prescription drugs. The case was unfounded.
• Oct. 16, 2013: Two days after AJ’s birth, DCFS received a report alleging substance misuse and neglect. AJ and Cunningham tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines. AJ was removed from his mother’s care a month later.
• Nov. 14, 2013: DCFS was granted temporary custody of AJ in juvenile court. He then was placed with his cousin in a “relative foster home.” Cunningham and Freund participated in parenting classes and drug treatments.
• December 2014: AJ’s younger brother was born and remained with Cunningham.
• June 2015: A judge ordered AJ returned to his mother when he was 18 months old. Between June 24, 2015, and April 13, 2016, a Youth Service Bureau worker made 26 unannounced visits to the home and did not see signs of abuse or neglect.
• April 2016: AJ’s juvenile court case was closed.
• Aug. 28, 2015: A case worker was informed Freund’s drug test was invalid.
• March 21, 2018: DCFS received a report that alleged substantial risk of physical injury/injurious environment and environment neglect against AJ’s parents. The report alleged Cunningham was brought to the emergency room after being found unresponsive in a car. Hospital staff observed odd bruising on AJ’s face.
• April 25, 2018: A DCFS investigator met with Cunningham, AJ and his younger brother. The investigator observed the boys to be clean and did not find signs of maltreatment.
• May 17, 2018: A DCFS investigator completed a final safety assessment of the home. Both boys were observed to be clean and dressed appropriately.
• May 18, 2018: A DCFS investigator verified Cunningham’s participation in drug treatment programs. The report from March 2018 was closed.
• May 24, 2018: McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally pens a letter to DCFS regarding the handling of McHenry County cases, citing three specifics. Read the letter here.
• Dec. 18, 2018: DCFS received a report alleging environmental neglect as to both boys and cuts, welts and bruises. Police also observed the ceiling falling down and the floor torn up, and the kids’ bedroom smelled of dog urine. Cunningham was arrested for driving on a suspended license, and both children were taken into protective custody.
A DCFS investigator interviewed the boys at the Crystal Lake Police Department. AJ said he received a bruise when the family dog pawed him. Cunningham told DCFS they were remodeling the home and admitted to dog feces and urine being present. A DCFS investigator asked Cunningham to get AJ medical care after she was bailed out.
The children were returned home.
Later on Dec. 18, a physician examined AJ but could not determine how his injury was caused. The doctor said the injury could have been caused by a dog, belt or a football.
Still, the doctor was concerned because AJ said, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
A DCFS investigator contacted the father to pick up the children from the hospital until the home environment could be assessed.
• Dec. 19, 2018: A DCFS investigator conducted an unannounced home visit. The living room and dining room were cluttered with clothes and toys. The father denied any corporal punishment, and he denied that Cunningham used drugs.
• Jan. 4, 2019: DCFS deemed the case unfounded because of the lack of evidence of cuts, welts and bruises.
• Feb. 22, 2019: The Freund home is sold at a foreclosure sale. The couple remain in the house.
• March 4, 2019: Cunningham allegedly takes a video of AJ lying naked in a crib, with bandages around his wrists and hips and an ice pack over his eyes. The boy’s chest, neck and eyes were badly bruised. Cunningham appears to berate the boy for wetting the bed in the video, McHenry County court records show.
• April 14, 2019: Freund and Cunningham allegedly force AJ to take a 20-minute cold shower as punishment for lying about soiling his underwear. Freund told police he wanted Cunningham to stop with the "hard physical beatings" and do a less violent punishment, McHenry County court records show. The child is put to bed naked, wet and cold.
• April 15, 2019: Someone uses Freund's phone to Google "child cpr" at 3:17 a.m. Freund told police that Cunningham had found AJ unresponsive in bed. Freund later that morning put AJ's body in a large tote and hid it in the basement, McHenry County records show.
• April 17, 2019: Freund put the boy’s body into garbage bags, then put the body in the trunk of his car, and drove the body to the burial site. Freund tells police he went to Crystal Lake Jewel-Osco store around 9 p.m. that day. An April 17 photo of a shopping list which contained items including duct tape, plastic gloves, air freshener and bleach was later discovered by police, according to McHenry County court records.
• April 18, 2019: Freund goes to a 6:30 a.m. doctors appointment at a rehabilitation clinic in Elgin. He calls the police to report the AJ missing around 9:00 a.m.
DCFS receives a hotline report alleging environmental neglect and inadequate supervision. Police said the home had ripped-up floors, food lying around and garbage everywhere. DCFS takes custody of AJ’s younger brother.
• April 19, 2019: Investigators interviewed AJ’s younger brother at the McHenry County Child Advocacy center. The 4-year-old boy told interviewers his parents had told him not to talk about AJ, and said that his mother told him AJ had “fallen down the stairs and has a lot of owies, according to McHenry County court records.
Cunningham retains Crystal Lake attorney George Kililis and appears with him outside the home. Kililis tells the public that Cunningham is “worried sick” and had nothing to do with AJ’s disapperance.
• April 23, 2019: Freund and Cunningham appear in McHenry County court together for a shelter hearing to determine where the 4-year-old child living in the home will be placed amid allegations of abuse and neglect.
• April 24, 2019: Freund confesses his role in the child’s death and burying. He leads police to an area near ComEd transmission towers off Dean Street, near Woodstock where police discover AJ’s body wrapped in plastic inside a shallow grave.
Police remove evidence from the home including a shovel, a toddler mattress, several lawn bags and a large tub from the home. Animal control takes posession of the family dog, a Boxer named Lucy.
Freund and Cunningham each are charged with first-degree murder in connection with the 5-year-old's death.
Crowds in Crystal Lake and Woodstock gather to pay respects as news breaks that AJ is dead.
• April 29, 2019: Cunningham and Freund agree to have DCFS care for their younger son. Prosecutors attempt to revoke the former couple’s parental rights.
• May 10, 2019: Cunningham and Andrew Freund plead not guilty to all charges.
• May 31, 2019: Cunningham gives birth to a baby girl, agrees to keep the child in DCFS custody
• June 18, 2019: Attorneys await a psychiatric evaluation of Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr.
• Aug. 7, 2019: A McHenry County judge granted prosecutors’ motions Wednesday seeking AJ’s past medical records.
• Aug. 29, 2109: Prosecutors seek additional medical records of Cunningham.
• Sept. 26, 2019: Cunningham gives a jailhouse interview with CBS, saying “I would rather kill myself than hurt my family.”
• Nov. 27, 2019: The city of Crystal Lake is allowed to move forward with its plans to demolish the house where police say accused child murderers JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. killed their 5-year-old son.
• Dec. 5, 2019: Cunningham pleads guilty to the first-degree murder of AJ.
• March 4, 2020: The city of Crystal Lake demolishes the Dole Avenue home where AJ was killed.
• July 17, 2020: Cunningham sentenced to 35 years in prison.
• Aug. 6 2020: Cunningham transported to Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.
• Jan. 21, 2021: Andrew Freund Sr., who was licensed as an attorney in 1984, was disbarred as a result of the convictions, according to Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
• March 28, 2022: Cunningham files a post-conviction petition pro se, alleging her constitutional rights were violated, she had ineffectual counsel and she was prescribed psychiatric medication while pregnant, leading to hormonal unbalance.
• June 1, 2022: McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt dismissed Cunningham’s post-conviction petition, saying her constitutional rights were not violated and disputing many of her claims.