Tragedy and turmoil marked suburban crime news in 2020
The heartbreaking story of the short, tragic life of AJ Freund, the Crystal Lake 5-year-old beaten to death in 2019 then buried in a shallow grave in Woodstock, concluded in 2020 with guilty pleas and prison sentences for his parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr.
Cunningham, 37, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder was sentenced to 35 years in prison in July.
According to police, Freund Sr. admitted AJ was dead after police recovered video deleted from Cunningham's phone showing the aftermath of a beating the boy suffered for wetting the bed a month before his murder. On the day he was killed, authorities say Cunningham forced AJ to endure a 20-minute cold shower and beat him on the head for lying about hiding soiled underwear.
Many expressed anger and heartbreak over the sentences, which they believed were too short. One person described the punishments as a "grave injustice."
Here's a look back at 2020's other major suburban crime stories.
• The October 2016 conviction of Jacquelyn Greco, 73, for the 1979 murder of her husband, Carl Gaimari, in the couple's Inverness home, seemingly solved the decadeslong cold case. Or so Gaimari's family thought, until an Illinois Appellate Court overturned Greco's conviction last summer and ordered a new trial for the woman who prosecutors say was motivated by greed to kill her husband, who was shot six times by unidentified intruders. During a recent hearing, defense attorneys indicated the case may be resolved without another trial.
• A Wheeling man turned his SUV into a weapon in May when he ran down and killed a former friend, according to authorities. Jose Fermin Zavala-Hernandez, 38, faces first-degree murder charges in the death of 32-year-old Carlos Maciel Pulido, also of Wheeling.
Authorities say Zavala-Hernandez fled to Indiana after the killing, but was arrested following a road rage incident and high-speed chase. He was extradited and is being held without bail in the Cook County jail.
• An Arlington Heights home invasion turned deadly for one of two armed, would-be offenders, according to authorities.
Bradley J. Finnan, 39, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Larry D. Brodacz, 58, of Buffalo Grove, pushed their way into a home and threatened the family during a robbery attempt caught on a doorbell security camera, police say. The male homeowner chased off Finnan, who was later arrested at his mother's Rockford home. The male homeowner returned and fatally shot Brodacz during a struggle, authorities say. • A 39-year-old Des Plaines man was charged in June with the fatal stabbing of a man he believed was having an affair with his wife. Authorities say Jonas Villafuerte-Vega stabbed 45-year-old Dionicio Hernandez, of Des Plaines, left his body in a drainage ditch near an Elk Grove Village factory and went to work. Defense attorneys say Villafuerte-Vega acted in self-defense.
• A 16-year-old is charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of 15-year-old Glenbrook South High School student Elias Valdez. Valdez was found lying in a grassy area on Aug. 5 with a stab wound to his chest. The defendant, who is charged as a juvenile, was ordered held on house arrest to the dismay of the victim's family, who expressed anger that the teen isn't charged with first-degree murder. The slaying marked the first murder in Glenview in 14 years.
• An Elk Grove Village man who shot postal carrier Stephen Casazza Jr. in the back and wrist during a New Year's Eve 2018 altercation pleaded guilty in September to attempted second-degree murder of a United States employee and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. Cameron Ruebusch, 25, faces a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison at his sentencing hearing scheduled for Jan. 8.
• A commutation from President Donald Trump in February followed a week later by his disbarment by the Illinois Supreme Court seemingly closed the criminal chapter on disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich's law license had been on interim suspension since his October 2011 conviction for wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion. In disbarring him, the Illinois Supreme Court cited the "numerous criminal acts" he committed during his time as the state's chief executive.
DuPage County/Fox Valley
• In February, DuPage County authorities announced that with the help of improved DNA technology, they had solved the January 1976 murder of Pamela Maurer, a 16-year-old girl found raped and strangled in Lisle.
Her killer, they said, was Bruce Lindahl of Aurora. Lindahl died in 1981 when he accidentally stabbed himself in an artery while killing a Naperville man. He's also suspected in the 1980 disappearance and death of an Aurora woman who was set to testify against him in a rape trial, the disappearance of a Downers Grove teen girl in 1979, and rapes and other crimes against women.
• Retired Illinois State Police Trooper Greg Rieves was shot to death in a Lisle cigar lounge in February. Lisa McMullan of Chicago shot him, along with a current ISP officer and another retiree, then shot herself to death, at the Humidor Cigar Lounge. Authorities said it appeared McMullan was infatuated with Rieves.
• In August, Glendale Heights resident Shafath Khan, 46, shot his 4-year-old son Salman to death, then killed himself. The bodies were recovered after an explosion and fire in their apartment at the Waters Edge condominium complex.
• An elderly Chicago woman in a wheelchair was killed as she and her son tried to cross Main Street (Route 64) in downtown St. Charles. Suspected hit-and-run driver Andrew Jensen is charged with failure to report an accident, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death and failure to yield at a crosswalk.
• A Naperville man who starred on Netflix's "Cheer" show was charged by federal prosecutors with multiple counts of receiving, trying to receive and producing child pornography. Jerry Harris, 21, was arrested in September.
• Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek was charged in August with honest services wire fraud by the federal government, which alleges he pocketed more than $280,000 in kickbacks from the owner of an excavation company and one of her employees. Czernek resigned in December.
• A Maywood man was shot to death in June during a party at a short-term rental house in Roselle. More than 60 shots were fired June 27 in the fracas on Picton Road, according to police. Jamez Elem, 29, was killed, and four other people were injured.
• A man was stabbed in June while trying to intervene in rioting that broke out in downtown Naperville after a protest against police brutality. Businesses were vandalized and burglarized there, in downtown Aurora and in Downers Grove. In Aurora, three men were charged with conspiracy to commit bank theft after they tried to remove an ATM from a bank's drive-up lane. Several others were charged with burglarizing a Best Buy store on Butterfield Road in Downers Grove when a crowd broke in to it.
• A 40-year-old Algonquin woman is charged with first-degree murder in the November deaths of a couple with whom she lived. Arin Fox is accused of stabbing Leonard J. Gilard, 73, and Noreen S. Gilard, 69. Police say she was a friend or girlfriend of one of the couple's sons, who did not live in the home.
• Three men were charged with attempted murder, home invasion and aggravated battery with a firearm, after break-ins Aug. 23 at homes in Wheaton and Lombard. Malik Pitts and Keytori Jackson of Broadview and Isaiah Johnson of Blue Island are the accused. One of the homeowners was shot while struggling with Johnson. Police say they matched DNA from blood left at one of the crime scenes to Pitts.
• Citing improper and damaging testimony from an FBI profiler, the Illinois Supreme Court in January ordered a new trial for Shadwick King, a Geneva man who was convicted of strangling his wife in July 2014 and staging her body on a railroad track to make it look like she collapsed while jogging.
• In a case that's garnered widespread national attention, Antioch teen Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested in the killings of two men and wounding of a third during violent protests in August over the shooting of a Black man by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and other charges in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz.
Authorities say Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum during a confrontation. He then attempted to flee with other protesters in pursuit. Rittenhouse tripped and, while on the ground, Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Grosskreutz.
Rittenhouse, who has pleaded not guilty and claimed self-defense, is free while awaiting trial after actor Rick Schroeder helped him post $2 million bail.
• An Oct. 20 traffic stop ended with the shooting death of 19-year-old Waukegan resident Marcellis Stinnette by Waukegan police Officer Dante Salinas. Waukegan officials released video of the deadly encounter which shows Stinnette's girlfriend, who was wounded, fleeing after an encounter with another officer. No body camera footage exists of the shooting itself, but dashcam video shows Salinas opened his door, shouted, "Get out of the car!" and fired seven shots. The shooting sparked protests from the local Black Lives Matter chapter and Stinnette's neighbors.
• The pandemic led to many suburban court proceedings taking place virtually over platforms like Zoom. And in Lake County, that led to several disruptions from still-unidentified hackers who interrupted proceedings to display offensive images and make loud noises in what's become known as "Zoom bombing." In at least one instance, a person made serious threats against a Lake County judge and the judge's family.