The Crystal Lake mother serving a 35-year prison sentence for killing her son, AJ Freund, had her post-conviction petition denied on Wednesday by a judge, who said she had no merit in her petition.
JoAnn Cunningham, 39, formerly of Crystal Lake, filed a post-conviction petition in McHenry County Circuit Court in late March.
Cunningham filed the petition pro se, meaning on her own behalf, and was seeking unspecified relief under the post-conviction act.
She claimed that her 14th, 8th and 6th Amendment rights were violated after her arrest and during the time of her court case.
In a handwritten five-page statement, Cunningham said she had ineffective counsel and was not allowed to testify on her own behalf in court.
Cunningham, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, claimed officers never read her Miranda rights to her before being questioned by detectives.
Cunningham also said her 8th Amendment right was violated by “excessive sentencing” imposed on her.
She said that she had been on psychiatric medications over a long period of time and was not being monitored by a doctor or mental health professional while in the McHenry County Jail.
She also claimed to have suffered hallucinations while in jail on the prescribed medications, which caused “severe side effects,” during her pregnancy and after.
Cunningham gave birth to a child while in the McHenry County Jail in May 2019.
Cunningham said in the petition that she suffered from postpartum psychosis at the time she killed AJ, who was 5 years old, but that her attorney did not present any evidence to the court.
“Defendant believed that she was possessed and that her son was possessed. Defendant was seeing demons and hearing voices,” Cunningham said, referring to the period of time around when she killed AJ.
“Defendant went to her priest, chaplain and co-parent and asked for help with this matter,” she said.
Cunningham also told her priest, chaplain and co-parent “that she needed an exorcism.”
“The co-parent of her children was there through the whole experience that the defendant had with the demons she was hearing and seeing,” Cunningham said.
McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt issued a three-page order on Wednesday denying Cunningham’s petition.
Wilbrandt said in his order that Cunningham’s claims about ineffective counsel, not being read her Miranda rights and other claims “appear to be without legal merit.”
Cunningham’s claim about her sentence being “cruel and unusual” is “patently without merit,” Wilbrant said.
The judge also said that Cunningham’s mention of her medication and the side effects of her pregnancy was made without any assertion about how it affected her guilty plea.
“The court finds that the pleadings do not provide the ‘gist’ of a meritorious claim of a substantial deprivation of a federal or state constitutional right and that they are patently without merit,” Wilbrandt concluded in his order as he dismissed the petition.
Cunningham has been held in the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois since August 4, 2020.
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.
Cunningham was sentenced to 35 years in prison on July 17, 2020, by McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt.
She pleaded guilty in December 2019 to first-degree murder.
During Cunningham’s sentencing hearing, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally began the 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 AJ 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.
Prosecutors had said that AJ died at some point in the evening of April 14, 2019, after Cunningham had beaten AJ and placed him in a cold shower.
AJ was put to bed and later found dead, prosecutors said. Freund Sr. put AJ’s remains in a large plastic tote in the basement and days later buried the remains in a rural area outside of Woodstock.
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 rape and abuse at a young age, and has extreme rage and attachment issues.
Kenneally gave a closing statement during Cunningham’s sentencing hearing, saying, “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 sentencing 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.
“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.
AJ’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in AJ’s murder after accepting a plea deal to lesser charges in September 2020.
He 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.