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A.J. Freund: Mother says at sentencing hearing she would ‘give my life’ to have back the 5-year-old son she killed

The sentencing hearing for an Illinois woman who pleaded guilty to killing her 5-year-old son in April 2019 began Thursday with testimony from neighbors, audio tapes of the boy arguing with his mother, and the mother’s own testimony that she would do anything to have him back, the North West Herald reported.

JoAnn Cunningham changed her plea from not guilty to guilty last December and faces up to 60 years in prison, as CrimeOnline previously reported.

Cunningham is expected to be sentenced for the death of Andrew “A.J.” Freund on Friday when the hearing is complete.

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The Herald said that an audio tape recorded about two weeks before A.J.’s death brought tears to Cunningham and other members of the boy’s family as he tells his mother he wants “bad people” to hurt her so she’ll leave him and his brother with his father.

“I don’t want a family,” A.J. says. “You don’t have one,” Cunningham responds. “Do you really think (your dad) would choose you over me and your brother? Shut up!”

“Why do you want those bad people to hurt me?” she asks. “So I don’t ever see you again,” he replies.

Police officers testified about their interviews with Cunningham after the 911 call and before they learned A.J. was already dead. They told of text messages she and A.J.’s father, Andrew Freund Sr, exchanged, talking as if A.J. were still alive when they knew he was dead.

A forensic pathologist told about A.J.’s injuries. “He’s received multiple injuries to the head, his brain is swelling,” Mark Witeck said.

“It’s a pretty bad case. Not the worst I’ve seen, but it’s pretty bad,” he said.

Neighbors told the court they had seen A.J. with dark bruises for years, black eyes, cuts and scrapes. One neighbor said he saw the boy at Halloween with bandages only to learn later it wasn’t a costume — he had been burned by scalding water Cunningham said she accidentally spilled on him.

And there was Cunningham. “I had the privilege of having AJ as a son,” she said. “I love him, I miss him and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to bring him back. … Anyone who truly knows me knows how much I love being a mother more than anything in the world. Being a mother defines me. My children gave me a purpose. I miss all of them so much.”

“I would give my life to have AJ back. This is something I will never escape from.”

Cunningham and Freund Sr are accused of killing the boy on April 15, 2019, forcing him to remain in a cold shower “for an extended period of time” and beating him, then putting him to bed and locking him in his room, where he died. Freund Sr allegedly buried him in a shallow grave the next day.

Investigators found A.J.’s lifeless body on rural land in Woodstock, Illinois. The little boy was found wrapped in plastic and placed in a shallow grave.

The discovery came on April 25, exactly one week after Freund Sr. reported his son missing on April 18. The man called 911 and told the dispatcher that he couldn’t find A.J., and explained the last time he saw him was the previous night, in their home off of Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake.

Cunningham was initially charged with five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death. She pleaded guilty to a single count of first degree murder, and the other charges were dropped. The plea deal offers no opportunity for parole.

Freund Sr has been charged with five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealment of homicidal death and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death. He remains in jail awaiting trial.

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[Feature Photo: A.J. Freund/Handout]