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.
Read a transcription of Cunningham's full statement during Thursday's trial below:
"I’ve had the privilege of having AJ as a son and when I had him those were the happiest days of my life. I loved him, I miss him and there's nothing that I wouldn't do to bring him back."
"My children are the greatest gift God has ever given me. They are my whole world. The reason they are the reason I breathe. Anyone who truly knows me can say how much I love being a mother, more than anything in the world. Being a mother defines me."
"My children gave me a singleness of purpose. A love and a joy that can never be replaced. My heart belongs entirely to them. All of my children are sacred and my most precious treasures. I miss all of them so much. Words cannot describe it."
"AJ is remembered as brilliant, handsome, funny, loving, special, beautiful, courageous, driven, talented and absolutely loved. AJ carried a briefcase around every day because he was going to be a lawyer, he also wanted to be a garbage man gas station attendant doctor, and to work at the local doughnut shop. And he was convinced along with all of us that he could be anything that he wanted to be. I raised all my children to everything with love and joy. AJ’s favorite doughnut was chocolate sprinkles. His favorite color is green. His favorite food is all the food. He could never pick a favorite because he loved to eat everything. His favorite toys are Legos."
"My heart and my mind are filled with despair, pain, sadness, grief, seizing anguish and remorse. There's a great sorrow in my heart. I will never be able to justify anything, nor do I ever want to. Through my negligence, my weaknesses and failures, created a host of problems for me. It's difficult to understand or describe but I’ll try. I've always felt abandoned, unloved, insignificant, forgotten and rejected. I've been saying physically abused, all without a single moment of encouragement, which slowly drained my heart and joy and peace. We all thirst for love of others. I've always been made out to be as society's throwaway or outcast. I spent a majority of my life on autopilot hanging on by a thread. My needs were enormous, and my strength dried up. I had become a stranger to myself. A total stranger my own here. Nobody will ever understand unless they've walked in my shoes. By no determinant I suffer, and I will try to rise above human scorn and judgment."
"I’ve never thought of my own well-being. And even if I did, I couldn't help myself. I was mentally unavailable, even to myself. Unfortunately I managed to spell my anxiety and depression and pain with drugs. Drugs were a Band-Aide, something that took my pain away. There's a pain inside of me that words will never reach only love knows the way. With a clear sober mind, I know that God will never impose, I mean anything that I cannot bear. But sometimes I wish you would have such great confidence in me. We are all equal in God's sight. We all have done nothing to deserve God's love. But he loves us."
"God promises to be with us through our sufferings and ultimately to make us strong firm and steadfast. God wants us to persevere and persist through pain, through sufferings and through trials of life. I may not understand why God allows us certain struggles in our lives, but I will put my trust when wisdom, power and understanding and how God uses us imperfect human beings in order to manifest ourselves. I am living proof of what mental and physical abuse can create and someone. I plead with everyone to help me tackle this cancer. I beg you with all my whole heart."
"Through this, I am more than ever moved by the grace of God. I am bound to take this tragedy that I created and help whoever I can and possibly help. I am a child of God. I am a loving, kind, passionate woman who has feelings and loves deeply. I'm human. I ask God to make me a better person every day and to give me my heart and joy back. As much as I deserve punishment, I believe I deserve help. Please help me. For we all are fragile instruments in God's hands, and in need of God's mercy."
"I would give my life to have AJ back. This is something I will never escape from and am impacted forever by my horrendous choices. I cannot change the decisions of my past. I ask you to help me put the million scattered pieces of my heart back together. I need love not more pain. There is a much larger reality here. I'm trying to manage to fight my way through the confusion and it's not so easy. I often read Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” As I stand here with all the hurt and pain, I’ve caused I beg for forgiveness. Ask for compassion, love and mercy. My heart and mind failed me and my loved ones and unfortunately, I cannot go back and change that. Not only do I ask for mercy. I ask you to not overlook all the good I have done. I need all the support love and guidance I can get. The poison of hate does not solve anything. I want my children to be proud of me."
Judge Wilbrant is expected to render his verdict Friday afternoon.