WARNING: This story contains disturbing details that may be difficult for some viewers to read.
The Illinois mother charged in the beating death of her 5-year-old son Andrew "AJ" Freund, a Crystal Lake boy who was reported missing before his body was found in a shallow grave in a far northwest suburb, has pleaded guilty to murder.
Joann Cunningham, 36, had previously pleaded not guilty and requested a trial by jury in May. On Thursday, she filed a guilty plea at the McHenry County courthouse in Woodstock, where she will now face 20 to 60 years in prison.
A status hearing in the case is set for Jan. 30 and the remaining charges against her have been dropped. She will be sentenced at a later date.
Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, were arrested and initially charged on Apr. 24, the same day police said they recovered AJ Freund's body wrapped in plastic and buried in a remote location in the northwest suburb of Woodstock, just miles from the Crystal Lake home where the two had reported the boy missing the week before.
Freund Sr. called police on Apr. 18 to report AJ missing, telling a dispatcher that he and Cunningham last saw the boy while putting him to bed the night before and that they'd checked "closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere," in the house to no avail, according to the 911 call.
But investigators quickly knocked down the possibility of a kidnapping, saying there were no signs that AJ had been forcibly removed from the home.
Police said both parents were questioned and after investigators confronted them with cell phone data evidence "both Joann and Andrew Sr. provided information that ultimately led to the recovery, what we believe is the recovery of deceased subject AJ," said Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black.
Court records revealed that video police recovered from Cunningham's cell phone, showing AJ naked on a mattress and covered in bruises, prompted Freund Sr. to lead investigators to the boy's body.
On Apr. 25, the McHenry County Coroner's office identified the body found as AJ's and said the cause of death was "craniocerebral trauma as a consequence of multiple blunt force injuries."
Cunningham and Freund Sr. were each indicted on 20 charges apiece, including first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child, among others connected to AJ's death.
The pair were also indicted on several counts related to incidents occurring on March 4, for which they were indicted on two counts of aggravated battery of a child and one count of aggravated domestic battery, and on Sept. 20, 2018, for which they were indicted on one count each of reckless conduct causing great bodily harm, unlawful restraint and a misdemeanor count of child endangerment.
Freund was also indicted on an additional count of making a false complaint to 911.