AJ Freund's mother says she was 'seeing demons and hearing voices' before she killed son
The Crystal Lake mother serving a 35-year prison term for killing her 5-year-old son AJ Freund in 2019 claims in newly filed court records that she suffered postpartum psychosis and had been "seeing demons and hearing voices" before she killed her son.
"Her participation in the offense was a direct result of her suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis," JoAnn Cunningham, 39, wrote in her handwritten petition seeking relief.
Cunningham's petition does not state what specific relief she is seeking, but post-conviction relief in such cases could include a withdrawal of her guilty plea. The case potentially could then be set for trial.
Cunningham was pregnant at the time she killed her son who was the focus of many interactions with police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
She also wrote in her new petition that around the time of the murder she asked a priest, chaplain and Andrew Freund, AJ's father, for an exorcism.
Cunningham filed the petition on Monday in McHenry County from Logan Correctional Center in Logan, claiming a list of ways her constitutional rights had been violated.
On July 17, 2020, Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her son in their Crystal Lake home on April 15, 2019.
In her petition, she wrote that "[she] believed she was possessed and that her son was possessed" when she killed AJ.
Authorities said she beat AJ and made him stand in a freezing shower for 20 minutes then put him to bed naked, cold and wet where he soon died.
Freund, 63, admitted he then stored the body in a storage container in the basement of their home at 94 Dole Ave. Days later, he took the boy's body to a field in Woodstock just west of Route 47 and buried it in a shallow grave.
At first, on April 18, 2019, hours after AJ's body was buried, the couple claimed the child ran off and was missing. Authorities and the community searched for AJ for days until Freund admitted the boy was dead and led police to his body.
Freund pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a child and concealment of a homicidal death on Sept. 18, 2020. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He is currently housed in the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton.
In her post-conviction petition, Cunningham wrote that she was "not represented properly," neither she nor anyone else testified on her behalf, she never gave a confession "oral or written" and was not read her Miranda rights by detectives during questioning or in jail.
Cunningham spoke at her sentencing hearing in July 2020, saying her children were God's "greatest gift."
"My heart belongs entirely to them," Cunningham said during the seven-hour sentencing hearing. "All of my children are sacred, most precious treasures. I miss all of them so much; words cannot describe it."
Cunningham also wrote in the post-conviction petition that the "excessive sentence" is "cruel and unusual punishment." Cunningham claimed she was not monitored by a doctor or a mental health professional for side effects from psychiatric medication while in custody at the county jail.
She further asserts that being pregnant while taking psychiatric medication "caused a hormonal imbalance" and she suffered "postpartum syndrome psychosis." The depression and psychosis continued during her time in county jail. No evidence of her postpartum depression or psychosis was presented "by a qualified medical person" at trial or sentencing, she said.
After giving birth to a baby girl in May 2019, she was placed on suicide watch. Cunningham wrote that she should have been on suicide watch from the time she first arrived at the county jail because of her mental health history.
Cunningham attached documents to the petition listing the medications she said she was taking at the time and their potential side effects; Suboxone, Adderall, Xanax and Wellbutrin.
The post-conviction petition is on the docket in McHenry County court Friday morning.
Assistant public defenders Angelo Mourelatos and Richard Behof, Cunningham's attorneys when she pleaded guilty and was sentenced, declined to comment. McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally also declined to comment.