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AJ Freund's father pleads guilty, sentenced to maximum 30 years

After 17 months of denying before a McHenry County judge any involvement in the death of his five-year-old son AJ Freund, Andrew Freund pleaded guilty Friday to aggravated battery to a child, involuntary manslaughter and concealment of a homicidal death.

The 61-year-old Crystal Lake man was sentenced to 30 years in prison but could serve as little as 18 years in prison under the state’s sentencing laws.

After the sentencing, Freund’s attorney, Special Public Defender Henry Sugden, said his client earned the sentence he received because of his cooperation. It is because of Freund’s own words that authorities were able to find the child’s body, know the manner, cause and time of his death.

“Never in a million years would they have been able to find AJ’s body without his cooperation,” Sugden said. “(They) would not have been able to charge JoAnn or him and he is the only one who knew where the body was buried. Without that  there would be. No way to find the body.”

Sugden said he is relieved both parties were “reasonable” and that the county was spared from hearing the “disturbing” details of AJ’s death at trial.

The sentences approved by Judge Robert Wilbrandt include 11 years in prison for aggravated battery to child, 85% of which must be served under the state’s truth-in-sentencing laws; 14 years for involuntary manslaughter, 50% of which must be served; and 5 years for concealment of a homicidal death, 50% of which must be served, Wilbrandt said.

Wilbrandt said the sentences would be served consecutively “for the protection of the public.”

Following his prison sentence, Freund will also have to spend some time under supervised release and will be listed on the state’s registry for violent offenders against youth, he said.

AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of murder and was sentenced in July to 35 years in prison. Her term will be served at 100%.

Following the couples’ arrest, authorities said that the father admitted his son died in the early hours of April 15, 2019, and that he kept his body in a plastic tote for about two days in the basement of their now demolished home at 94 Dole Ave. in Crystal Lake.

AJ’s remains were kept hidden in the cluttered and filthy basement ridden with bugs and mice as Cunningham and Freund exchanged text messages reflecting a seemingly normal family, according to testimony during Cunningham’s sentencing hearing. They exchanged details about their daily activities and ideas about how to help AJ with his alleged behavior issues.

The two continued the charade until Freund buried his son in a shallow grave in a field in Woodstock, authorities said. Freund then made a false 911 call the morning of April 18, 2019.

He claimed that he had left home early in the morning for a doctor’s appointment and returned to find his son had gone missing. He told police he conducted his own search at a nearby park, convenience store and school before calling 911.

A community-wide search involving the FBI and other police agencies from across the state continued for about a week before Freund led authorities to his son’s remains.

AJ had often been the subject of police and Illinois Department of Child and Family Service calls during his short life. Neighbors said they often saw cuts, bruises and burns on AJ. For the first 18 months of his life, after he was born with heroin in his system, he was in the care of court-ordered foster care.

The case has led to the firing of and criminal charges against Illinois Department of Child and Family Services caseworker Carlos Acosta, 54, and his supervisor Andrew Polovin, 48. The two had become aware of a large bruise on AJ’s hip four months prior to his death and, according to authorities, failed to properly investigate before closing the case.

This is a developing story. Check for updates.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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