Freund hearing routine, but media cameras recording it a first in McHenry County
An otherwise routine proceeding Tuesday in the case of Andrew Freund Sr., charged with first-degree murder in the death of 5-year-old son AJ, was noteworthy as the first time media cameras were allowed in a McHenry County courtroom.
Still and video cameras captured images of Freund wearing orange prison clothes as he was escorted through a door to the right of Judge Robert Wilbrandt and led to the bench for a status hearing.
Freund, 61, was unshackled and uncuffed for the first public images -- besides his jail mug shot -- since he and AJ's mother, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, were taken into custody April 24 and charged in the boy's beating death.
The arrests came after AJ's body was recovered from a shallow grave in rural Woodstock six days after he was reported missing. That report unleashed an extensive search and generated national attention, putting Freund Sr. and Cunningham in the spotlight.
Cunningham pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to one count of first-degree murder for her part in AJ's death. She faces a maximum of 60 years in prison and must serve the entire sentence. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
At Freund's status hearing Tuesday, Assistant McHenry County State's Attorney Rita Gara asked for and was granted protective orders keeping private certain medical information received in the case against Cunningham.
The records are for treatment Cunningham received at Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago and at Chicago Behavioral Hospital in Des Plaines.
Gara said she intends to share the information with Henry Sugden, Freund's court-appointed attorney. Freund's case was continued to Feb. 27.
Prosecutors have not offered Freund a plea deal, Gara said.
"We're not in a position to expect a plea at this point," she added.
Wilbrandt began Freund's hearing by noting this was the first instance of what is known as "extended media coverage" in a McHenry County courtroom The program was approved by the Illinois Supreme Court in February 2016 and is allowed in 20 of the state's 24 judicial circuits.
Wilbrandt outlined the rules, which call for media requests to be received at least 14 days before a proceeding to allow both parties in a case to be notified, object and have a judge review and rule.
That deadline was missed in Freund's case, but Wilbrandt from the bench allowed it to proceed after asking and receiving no objections from Gara or Sugden. Wilbrandt also ordered that the media access be allowed for all subsequent proceedings involving Freund until the end of the case.
While there was a lot of behind-the-scenes planning, Tuesday's proceeding went smoothly said James "Dan" Wallis, trial court administrator and media liaison for the 22nd Judicial Circuit.
"In any new endeavor there will be hiccups and snags," he said.
"We'll determine (any issues and) figure out what went right and what went wrong and make it more seamless," he added.