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From time to time during her sentencing hearing on Thursday, JoAnn Cunningham had to move her surgical mask to wipe away tears as prosecutors laid out much of the same evidence they would have presented at her trial for the murder of her 5-year-old son AJ Freund.
The 37-year-old Crystal Lake woman is facing a maximum of 60 years behind bars for the 2019 crime that shocked the northwest suburban community.
After first claiming AJ was missing, Cunningham later pleaded guilty to the crime after being confronted with damning evidence including cell phone videos appearing to depict previous abuse.
During her sentencing hearing before Judge Robert Wilbrant, a medical examiner testified that AJ suffered broken ribs and severe swelling of his brain prior to his death.
Prosecutors also played video from a police interview room showing Cunningham praying for her son’s safe return after she knew she had beaten him to death.
An officer then poses the question, “I have to ask, for my sake, you had nothing to do with this crime?” Cunningham’s answer: “Oh no.”
As part of the sentencing hearing, prosecutors also presented testimony of previous incidents of abuse.
Emergency room doctor JoEllen Channon described a conversation with AJ months before his death. “I asked him if he had been spanked or hit? He said yes. I asked him with what? He said a belt, Channon said. “I asked him who did it. He said someone not in my family, but then he offered, maybe mom didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. were arrested and initially charged on Apr. 24, 2019, the same day police said they recovered AJ's body wrapped in plastic and buried in a remote location in Woodstock, just miles from the Crystal Lake home where the two had reported the boy missing the week before.
Testimony in the sentencing hearing is expected to wrap up on Thursday. Judge Wilbrant is expected to render his verdict Friday afternoon.