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JoAnn Cunningham sentenced to 35 years in prison for murdering her son

JoAnn Cunningham, 37, closes her eyes as video recordings are played during a sentencing hearing in Woodstock on Thursday, July 16, 2020. | Photo: John Starks / Daily Herald.

A judge has sentenced JoAnn Cunningham to 35 years in prison for the first-degree murder of her son, AJ Freund.

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt handed down the sentence around 1:50 p.m. Friday.

Cunningham, 37, of Crystal Lake, will be required to serve 100% of the sentence and will have to serve three years of mandatory supervised release following her release from prison.

She pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder and faced between 20 and 60 years in prison. 

On Thursday, a sentencing hearing took place in a McHenry County courtroom.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally began it 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.”

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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 her 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.


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