After judge agrees to delay, sentencing remains weeks away for AJ Freund's mom

  • JoAnn Cunningham of Crystal Lake, who has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her 5-year-old son, AJ, appeared in McHenry County court Thursday for a status hearing.

      JoAnn Cunningham of Crystal Lake, who has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her 5-year-old son, AJ, appeared in McHenry County court Thursday for a status hearing. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • JoAnn Cunningham, who in December pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her 5-year-old son, AJ Freund, last April stands before McHenry County Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt during a status hearing Thursday. From left are Assistant Public Defender Richard Behof and McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Rita Gara.

      JoAnn Cunningham, who in December pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her 5-year-old son, AJ Freund, last April stands before McHenry County Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt during a status hearing Thursday. From left are Assistant Public Defender Richard Behof and McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Rita Gara. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • JoAnn Cunningham of Crystal Lake, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to the beating death last April of her 5-year old son, AJ Freund, enters a McHenry County courtroom Thursday for a status hearing.

      JoAnn Cunningham of Crystal Lake, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to the beating death last April of her 5-year old son, AJ Freund, enters a McHenry County courtroom Thursday for a status hearing. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • AJ Freund

    AJ Freund

 
 
Updated 1/30/2020 2:06 PM

The groundwork is about complete, but the sentencing of JoAnn Cunningham for first-degree murder in the April beating death of her 5-year old son, AJ Freund, in Crystal Lake remains weeks away.

Cunningham, 36, appeared in McHenry County court Thursday for a status hearing, during which a sentencing date was expected to be set. Instead, her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Richard Behof, told Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt more time is needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I don't want to set a sentencing (date) until I have all the evaluations and I can go over the evaluations with her," Behof said after the hearing.

Assistant State's Attorney Rita Gara did not object and another status date was set for March 19.

After months of maintaining her innocence in her son's slaying, Cunningham unexpectedly changed her plea to guilty on Dec. 5 and now faces a maximum of 60 years in prison when sentenced.

While Thursday's short court proceeding was routine, it also was notable as just the second time media cameras were allowed in a McHenry County courtroom. The first was on Jan. 14 when AJ's father, Andrew Freund Sr., appeared in court for a pretrial hearing. Freund, 61, faces first-degree murder and several other charges in connection with his son's death.

As with Freund, Cunningham was unshackled and uncuffed for the first public images -- besides her mug shot -- since she was taken into custody and charged April 24.

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Cunningham and Freund were charged after AJ's body was uncovered from a shallow grave in rural Woodstock six days after he was reported missing. By then, AJ's disappearance had become a national story and extensive searches had been undertaken.

In recent months, behind the scenes discussions between prosecutors and the defense resulted in Cunningham's guilty plea to one count of first-degree murder. That charge states Cunningham struck AJ knowing the acts would create a "strong probability of death or great bodily harm."

As part of the plea arrangement, prosecutors removed language McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said could have resulted in a life sentence. The sentencing range outlined in the plea is from 20 to 60 years. Kenneally said he would seek the maximum.

"If this is not a life sentence, the vast majority of her life will be spent in jail," Kenneally said on the day of the plea.

A presentencing investigation, which includes psychological, psychiatric and substance abuse evaluations, was ordered and submitted to Wilbrandt.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Since Cunningham's plea, prosecutors subpoenaed and received records for treatment she received at Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago and at Chicago Behavioral Hospital in Des Plaines.

Prosecutors on Monday filed a motion to allow those records to be tendered to Freund's attorney. Wilbrandt granted that motion Thursday.

Freund's next scheduled court date is Feb. 27. Both he and Cunningham remain in custody at the McHenry County jail.

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