WOODSTOCK, Ill. – Before a packed courtroom Friday in Woodstock, the parents of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in the death of their son last month.
Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham, of Crystal Lake, each requested a jury trial. They could both face life in prison if convicted, said McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Rita Gara.
On Thursday, the couple were indicted on a combined 41 criminal counts. Along with murder, they are accused of concealment of a body, aggravated domestic abuse of a child younger than 13 and other crimes.
The indictment alleges that Freund and Cunningham beat AJ, committing “great bodily harm.” The charges also state “the murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.”
Cunningham, 36, appeared first in court, accompanied by her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rick Behof, and two Correctional Emergency Response Team officers wearing bulletproof vests.
As one of the officers repeatedly scanned the room, Gara read the 20 counts in the indictment against her – including three counts of murder – and the possible sentencing ranges. The visibly pregnant Cunningham stood before Judge Robert Wilbrandt with her head down.
Freund, 60, appeared next, with his attorney, special public defender Henry Sugden, and the two officers. The 21 counts against him, which were read by Gara, are the same as those against Cunningham, with an additional charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly making a false 911 call to report his son missing.
AJ was found buried in a shallow grave six days after Freund made the 911 call on April 18, according to authorities. Three days earlier, authorities say, the boy had been beaten to death. His body was kept in the basement of the family home until two days later when Freund moved him and buried him in a field in Woodstock, authorities said.
As Freund entered the courtroom, a woman attempted to hold up a picture of AJ but was quickly admonished by Wilbrandt and a court deputy.
Along with charges in AJ’s death, each parent is also charged with aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery in an alleged beating of AJ in March that authorities say was found video-recorded on Cunningham’s cellphone.
The indictment also includes charges of reckless conduct, unlawful restraint and child endangerment that allegedly occurred between Sept. 20, 2018, and April 17, 2019. The charges state that the parents “caused or permitted” AJ to be “struck on or about his body.” The couple is accused of “repeatedly detain(ing)” AJ “in that (they) would place (AJ) in “time outs” for periods of multiple hours or longer.
The indictment also states that if the parents are convicted and eventually freed from prison they each must register as “violent offender(s) against youth” under the Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registration Act.
Authorities say that AJ was born with opiates in his system and grew up in a home that was the subject of several police calls and visits from Illinois Department of Children and Family Services workers.
Sugden asked Wilbrandt to rule on his motion for a gag order, saying the case has had too much publicity. Cunningham’s lawyers asked to join in on that motion.
Wilbrandt said the motion Sugden filed was too broad. He suggested the attorney refile it. Sugden said he is asking that parties connected with the case, including lawyers, police and the FBI, not make statements outside of court.
“I will not grant the motion as it stands now,” Wilbrandt said. “I think it’s too broad. I want to balance the rights of the defendant and the public’s rights under the First Amendment.”
Wilbrandt did grant Freund’s motion for a psychological evaluation and two phone calls. Sugden also said in court Freund is not getting some prescribed medicines in the jail.
Freund and Cunningham are scheduled back in court June 18