UPDATE: JoAnn Cunningham was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Read more here.
JoAnn Cunningham, the mother of 5-year-old Andrew 'AJ' Freund, the young Crystal Lake boy whose disappearance sparked a massive manhunt before his body was found in a shallow grave in a far northwest Chicago suburb, is set to learn her fate Friday.
After testimony wrapped during her sentencing hearing Thursday, Judge Robert Wilbrant is expected to render his verdict at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday's testimony saw prosecutors lay out much of the same evidence they would have presented at her trial for the murder of her 5-year-old son. It also saw the 37-year-old Crystal Lake woman deliver a tearful speech as she begged for mercy.
"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,' she said. "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."
She went on to say she would "give my life to have AJ back."
"This is something I will never escape from and am impacted forever by my horrendous choices," she said. "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."
Cunningham faces 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 beating her son to death and burying his body after being confronted with damning evidence including cell phone videos appearing to depict previous abuse.
During her sentencing hearing, 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 AJ's father, 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.