JoAnn Cunningham gave a tearful statement during her sentencing hearing in the murder of her son, AJ Freund, and said that she is a “child of God” and asked forgiveness.
Her sentencing hearing began on Thursday with McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt presiding over the case.
Cunningham, 37, of Crystal Lake, pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder. She faces between 20-60 years in prison.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally began by reading statements of fact to the court from witness accounts.
A Crystal Lake police officer and a Northwestern emergency room doctor both testified regarding a large bruise found on AJ Freund’s hip in December 2018.
Several other people were called to the stand throughout the hearing.
Dr. Mark Witeck, who is a forensic pathologist, described his findings during an autopsy on the boy on April 25, 2019.
Witeck said that the boy had abrasions and contusions covering his entire body. He had a swollen brain, which ultimately caused his death, and broken ribs.
AJ’s brain was crushed into the skull to the point that it shut the rest of his body down, Witeck said.
AJ’s former foster mother said that the boy was “the most perfect little boy.”
A mental health expert said that he had met with Cunningham several times and determined that she has Cluster B personality disorder.
He said that Cunningham suffered a rape and abuse at a young age, and has extreme rage and attachment issues.
Kenneally gave a closing statement, saying that, “The real harm, the real injury caused by AJ’s death is limitless. AJ is irreplaceable. Nothing that we can do will bring him back.”
Kenneally said “this wasn’t a quiet, peaceful death” before describing how Cunningham beat the boy with a showerhead while screaming in the boy’s face.
“She hasn’t been sitting here crying for AJ, she has been sitting here crying for herself,” he said. Kenneally pleaded to the judge for the maximum sentence — 60 years.
Cunningham read a prepared statement at the end of the hearing Thursday afternoon.
“I have vowed to take this tragedy that I created and help whoever I can possibly help. I am a child of God. I am a loving, kind, passionate woman who has feelings and loves deeply. I’m human,” she said.
“As I stand here with all the hurt and pain I caused, I beg for forgiveness. Ask for compassion, love and mercy. My heart and mind failed me and my loved ones, and unfortunately, I cannot go back and change that,” Cunningham added.
Judge Wilbrandt is expected to announce a sentence Friday afternoon.