Authorities move to terminate parental rights of couple charged in AJ Freund's death
The parents of slain 5-year-old AJ Freund of Crystal Lake appeared in court Monday as authorities moved to terminate the couple's parental rights to their other child and set the groundwork for an expected grand jury indictment.
JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, face first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the death of AJ, whose body was found Wednesday in a shallow grave near Woodstock six days after his parents reported him missing.
The pair, who remain jailed on $5 million bail each, made a brief criminal court appearance Monday before Judge Robert Wilbrandt, who set their case over for a May 10 preliminary hearing. That hearing, however, is expected to be made unnecessary by grand jury indictments before the next court appearance.
Both appeared in orange jail jumpsuits. Freund's hands were cuffed in front of him. Cunningham, who wore her medium-length hair pulled back in a bunch, was flanked by two sheriff's deputies but did not appear to be restrained. She did not have an attorney and a public defender was appointed.
Freund, an attorney by profession, told Wilbrandt he did not have an attorney but hoped to hire one. Wilbrandt set May 3 as a status date for that to be determined.
Later Monday, Cunningham and Freund appeared in another courtroom for what had been scheduled as a hearing to determine whether their younger son was abused or neglected and should remain in state care.
Instead, the parents agreed the boy should remain in temporary state custody and prosecutors began proceedings to strip the pair of their parental rights over the child.
Judge Christopher Harmon appointed a special advocate, Court Appointed Special Advocate of McHenry County, to work with the boy and compile a report. A court date in the proceeding was set for May 30.
CASA is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization with a network of 100 community members who have completed 40 hours of training. Its work will include meetings with the child and others but won't include the parents, said Jorie Siemen, senior advocate manager.
"The work the CASA volunteers do is invaluable to the court," said James D. Wallis, trial court administrator. "It helps the judge make decisions."
Cunningham is said to be 7 months pregnant and Assistant State's Attorney Julia Almeida asked for paternity testing of Freund as soon as possible. The parents also were ordered not to have contact with their son.
Authorities said AJ Freund died after being hit multiple times on the head April 15, three days before his father called 911 to report him missing. In addition to first-degree murder, Cunningham and Freund are charged with aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death.
Freund also is charged with concealment of a death.
Tabbatha Crago and Amber Jeschke, Crystal Lake residents who live a few blocks from the Freund home on Dole Avenue, were among those watching the couple appear in criminal court Monday.
Crago said she came to see justice.
"It affected our entire community," she said of AJ's disappearance, the extensive searches for him and the heartbreaking discovery of his body. "I think we were all kind of freaked out."
Marc Smith, acting director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, last week described the news as "heartbreaking," adding that a "comprehensive review" of the agency's work with the family will be conducted.
Several vigils have been held and Crystal Lake has been bathed in blue in memory of AJ.
A public visitation service is scheduled for 1 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, at Davenport Family Funeral Home and Crematory, 419 E. Terra Cotta Ave. (Route 176), Crystal Lake. Donations can be made to https://www.gofundme.com/d62g4d-rest-in-peace-aj.