Demonstrators seek to keep AJ's memory alive as case against parents proceeds
When Richard and Mary Becker think of their grandchildren, they also think of AJ Freund, the 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy who authorities say was fatally beaten by his parents.
"We need to keep the boy's memory alive," said Crystal Lake resident Mary Becker, one of about a dozen demonstrators outside the McHenry County Courthouse Tuesday, where AJ's parents made brief court appearances.
JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund, 60, are charged with first-degree murder and other felonies in the boy's death.
AJ's parents reported him missing April 18, but police later said he was killed three days earlier. His remains were found April 24 wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave in a field near Woodstock.
Cunningham and Freund are each held on $5 million bail at the McHenry County jail. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of the most severe charge of murder.
They also face charges of aggravated battery, domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death. Andrew Freund faces an additional charge of concealment of a homicide.
On Tuesday, Cunningham and Freund made brief appearances before being returned to jail. Prosecutors want fingerprint and hair samples from each and their defense attorney did not object.
Both are due back before Judge Robert Wilbrandt on July 16 when a fitness evaluation for Andrew Freund might be completed.
Demonstrators, most clad in blue for Child Abuse Prevention Month in April and carrying signs in remembrance of AJ and critical of the Department of Children and Family Services, were outside the courthouse. They want DCFS to be held more accountable.
"We want justice for AJ, like everyone does," said Tracy Cooper-Kotzman, who started the group "ROAR for AJ."
"(His parents) should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but that's secondary to saving children's lives that are currently at risk," Cooper-Kotzman continued. "The system failed him."
Added Mary Becker's husband, Richard: "There's no reason for DCFS to be there (at AJ's home) 18 times and not do anything -- that's ridiculous."
The group plans to demonstrate during every court date for AJ's parents and plans a remembrance for mid-October, when he would have turned 6.