Before a packed courtroom Friday in Woodstock, the parents of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges related to their son’s death last month.
Each parent, Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham, requested a jury trial on multiple charges of murder, concealment of a body and aggravated domestic abuse of a child younger than 13. The two face a combined 41 charges.
Each parent could face life in prison if convicted, said McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Rita Gara.
Cunningham, 36, came into the courtroom first with her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rick Behof, and two Correctional Emergency Response Team officers wearing bulletproof vests.
As one of the CERT officers repeatedly scanned the room, McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt read the charges including three counts of murder. Gara then read off the 20-count indictment against her and possible sentencing ranges facing the visibly pregnant Cunningham, who stood before the judge with her head down.
Freund, 60, was then brought into the courtroom with his attorney, special public defender Henry Sugden, and the two CERT officers. Again, the CERT officer scanned the room, and Wilbrandt told Freund of his charges, including three of murder. Gara then read the 21-count indictment and possible sentencing ranges. The additional charge against Freund is disorderly conduct.
As Freund entered the courtroom, a woman attempted to hold up a picture of AJ but was quickly admonished by the judge and a court deputy.
Along with charges related to AJ’s death, each parent is also charged with aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery over an alleged beating of AJ in March that authorities say was found video-recorded on Cunningham’s cellphone.
The indictments also include charges of reckless conduct, unlawful restraint and child endangerment for an incident that allegedly occurred on or between Sept. 20, 2018, and April 17, 2019. The charges state that the parents “caused or permitted” AJ to be “struck on or about his body.”
Sugden also asked Wilbrandt to rule on his motion for a gag order, saying the case has had too much publicity. Cunningham’s lawyers asked to join in on that motion.
Wilbrandt said the motion Sugden filed was too broad. He suggested the attorney refile it. Sugden said he only is asking that “agents” connected with the case, including police and the FBI, not make statements outside of court.
“I will not grant the motion as it stands now,” Wilbrandt said. “I think it’s too broad. I want to balance the rights of the defendant and the public’s rights under the First Amendment.”
Wilbrandt did grant Freund’s motion for a psychological evaluation and two phone calls.
AJ Freund, the subject of several police calls and DCFS visits during his short life, was found buried in a shallow grave days after Freund made a false 911 call reporting him missing, according to authorities. The boy was forced to stand in a cold shower and beaten to death April 15, authorities said. His body was kept in a tote in the basement of the family home on Dole Avenue until two days later when Freund moved him and buried him in a field in Woodstock.
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Amanda Marrazzo is a freelance reporter.
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