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Father of AJ Freund pleads guilty, sentenced to 30 years in prison in son’s death

Andrew Freund appears for a status hearing with Judge Robert Wilbrandt on September 16, 2020 at the McHenry County Courthouse in Woodstock. | Photo: Stacey Wescott/pool/Chicago Tribune.

Andrew Freund Sr. has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the murder of his 5-year-old son after accepting a plea deal to lesser charges on Friday.

Freund pleaded guilty to aggravated battery to a child, a Class X felony, involuntary manslaughter, a Class 3 felony, and concealing a homicidal death, a Class 3 felony.

He will serve 11 years on the first charge, 14 years on the second charge, and 5 years on the third charge, according to McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt.

As part of the plea deal, Freund also agreed to be interviewed by FBI and work with the DCFS investigation, Wilbrandt said.

Freund will receive day for day credit for the time he has already served in the McHenry County jail. Under truth-in-sentencing guidelines, Freund will not serve the entire sentence.

On July 17, Wilbrandt sentenced AJ Freund’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, to 35 years in prison for first-degree murder.

JoAnn Cunningham, 37, of Crystal Lake. | Photo: Illinois Department of Corrections.

Cunningham, 37, of formerly of Crystal Lake, was transferred to Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln on August 4 to serve her sentence, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Records show she is expected to be released on April 24, 2054. She entered the prison with over a year of credit for time served in the McHenry County jail awaiting trial.

Shortly after Cunningham was sentenced on July 17 by McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt, AJ Freund’s family released a statement saying that they were”disappointed and saddened” in the short sentence.

“We, the family of our beloved Andrew (AJ), are disappointed and saddened by the ruling of the Judge,” AJ Freund’s family, besides his parents, said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“We know that whatever the punishment, it will not ease the loss and pain we feel. 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 family said. “We had expected JoAnn would pay for that by spending her natural life in prison.”

“We also want to acknowledge everyone for their continued caring and support for AJ and helping to keep our little superhero’s spirit alive. Thank you so very much,” the family added.

Cunningham will be required to serve 100% of the 35-year sentence. She will have to serve three years of mandatory supervised release after being released from prison.

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

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally began Cunningham’s sentencing hearing 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.

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.

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 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.

“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.

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“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.

Carlos J. Acosta, 54, of Woodstock, (left) and Andrew R. Polovin, 48, of Island Lake (right).

Two former DCFS caseworkers were arrested on September 10 for their mishandling of AJ Freund’s abuse investigations.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office announced that arrest warrants had been served on Carlos J. Acosta, 54, of the 500 block of Prairie Ridge Drive in Woodstock, and Andrew R. Polovin, 48, of Island Lake.

Acosta and Polovin were charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one felony count of reckless conduct, according to the sheriff’s office.

Both men were taken into custody without incident and transported to the McHenry County jail September 10.

According to a bill of indictment, a grand jury charged Acosta for “not acting in good faith within his official capacity as a DCFS Child Protection Specialist and in a willful and wanton manner, knowingly caused or permitted the life or health of A.F., a minor child under the age of 18, to be endangered and said offense was a proximate cause of the death of A.F.”

The grand jury also charged Polovin for “not acting in good faith within his official capacity as a DCFS Child Protection Supervisor and in a willful and wanton manner, knowingly caused or permitted the life or health of A.F., a minor child under the age of 18, to be endangered and said offense was a proximate cause of the death of A.F.”

File Photo | Andrew Freund (undated photo).

Acosta and Polovin were ordered held on $20,000 bonds each. Acosta posted $2,000 bail around 9:40 p.m. September 10 and Polovin posted $2,000 bail around 11:55 p.m. September 10.

Polovin will appear in court on September 17 for an arraignment before McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt and Acosta will appear on September 24 for his arraignment.

In May, a search warrant affidavit was filed by McHenry County State’s Attorney investigator Robert Diviacchi, the Northwest Herald reported.

Prosecutors were looking into filing charges against Polovin, who was a DCFS supervisor, for his handling in the case of 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy Andrew Freund Jr., who was murdered in 2019.

The search warrant was seeking the complete personnel file, training transcripts and employee evaluations of former Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) supervisor Andrew Polovin, according to the Northwest Herald.

“From the Inspector General’s report, it is indicated that Mr. Polovin’s lack of supervisory oversight was willful and [wanton], given the nature of the injury, the explanations that had been given and rejected by police and unsupported by medical examination …” Diviacchi said in the affidavit at the time.

In December 2018, Crystal Lake police contacted DCFS, who opened an investigation into abuse allegations against AJ Freund’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, after officers found AJ to have suspicious bruising.

Polovin was the supervisor of caseworker Carlos Acosta, who was assigned to the case. They closed the case after attributing the bruising to the family dog, despite AJ telling an emergency room doctor, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

A federal lawsuit was filed on October 16 alleging that Acosta, who is also a McHenry County Board Member, and Polovin conducted ‘sham investigations’ and falsified reports despite clear signs that AJ was being abused before his death.

The lawsuit alleged Acosta falsified the Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol and indicated that AJ’s bruise was caused by a dog, despite obvious inconsistencies with the story.

“Defendants Acosta and Polovin, ignoring DCFS Procedures and the Prime Directive of ANCRA, returned AJ right back into the claws of his abusers, who were further emboldened by the Defendants’ indifference to gear up their infliction of horrific physical and mental abuse and torture, culminating in AJ’s murder on April 15, 2019,” Attorney Peter J. Flowers said in the lawsuit at the time.

Polovin and Acosta were later fired by DCFS in December.


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