A northern Illinois woman has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for subjecting her young son to years of physical and emotional abuse leading to his beating death last year.
JoAnn Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in December in the killing her son, Andrew “AJ” Freund. Eight months earlier, police had uncovered the boy’s battered body, wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave near the family’s home in Crystal Lake.
Cunningham, did not visibly react in the courtroom after McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt’s ruling, although her face was covered by a surgical mask. She faced between 20 to 60 years in prison. Cunningham pleaded for mercy from the judge on Thursday, depicting herself as a loving mother who misses her son.
Wilbrandt acknowledged that Cunningham had a “difficult life,” with addiction to drugs in spite of efforts to get treatment.
“She lapsed back into living in what can only be described as drug-addled filth — lying, cheating and manipulating her way through life while terrorizing her small son,” he said. “While her addictions do not justify her appalling behavior towards her own son, they perhaps do help explain why she engaged in … the inhumane, repulsive and frankly shocking course of conduct that ended her child’s young life.”
Prosecutors requested that the judge should impose the maximum 60-year sentence so that the 37-year-old mother would die in state prison. Wilbrandt said he considered that Cunningham did not plead guilty to a charge that specified she intended to kill her son or of wanton cruelty.
In a statement released by their attorney on Friday, family members claimed to be disappointed by the ruling.
“AJ was an innocent, precious little boy whose life was taken from him after he endured, what we now know, was much pain and suffering,” the statement said. “We had expected JoAnn would pay for that by spending her natural life in prison.”
AJ’s father, 61-year-old Andrew Freund Sr., has been charged with first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.