The parents of an Illinois 5-year-old who was beaten and made to stand in a cold shower for soiling himself pleaded not guilty Friday to first-degree murder and dozens of other charges related to his death.
JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, of Crystal Lake, appeared separately in McHenry County court, where a judge went over the 30-page indictment handed down Thursday in the death of their son, Andrew “AJ” Freund Jr. A large crowd of people wearing “Justice for AJ” T-shirts looked on from the gallery, The Northwest Herald reported.
The Herald reported that attorneys for Cunningham and Freund, who are each being held in lieu of $5 million bond, requested gag orders in the highly publicized case.
A 41-count indictment obtained by the Herald shows that AJ’s parents are accused of beating him repeatedly and forcing him into punishment for hours at a time between Sept. 20 and April 17, when the couple initially claimed they last saw their son. Freund reported AJ missing the following morning, telling a 911 dispatcher the boy vanished sometime after they’d put him to bed.
Listen to Andrew Freund Sr.’s 911 call below, courtesy of The Chicago Tribune.
Officers and deputies from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies spent the next several days searching for AJ, but K-9 units could not find his scent anywhere but inside the family’s home, authorities said.
Cunningham and Freund are also charged with battery for a beating inflicted on AJ March 4, the aftermath of which Cunningham caught on video, according to police. In the recording, which police officials said was discovered during a search of her cellphone, Cunningham is heard berating a visibly bruised and bandaged AJ for soiling himself.
According to an arrest affidavit in the case, it was after being confronted with the video that Freund admitted to investigators his son was dead. He led detectives April 24 to a shallow grave near Woodstock where he had buried the boy’s plastic-wrapped body.
An autopsy determined AJ died of blunt force trauma to the head.
AJ’s 4-year-old brother, Parker, was placed in state custody after AJ was reported missing. Cunningham is pregnant with the couple’s third child.
Cunningham and Freund each face multiple counts of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, reckless conduct, unlawful restraint and child endangerment, according to the indictment. Freund also faces charges of concealment of a homicide in connection with the burial of AJ’s body.
Attorneys for both defendants requested Friday that McHenry County Judge Robert Willbrandt impose a gag order on attorneys and investigators involved in the case, the Herald reported. Freund’s public defender, Henry Sugden, said his client had already been “tried in the press.”
Wilbrandt declined to rule on the request, asking the lawyers to instead consider a decorum order instead, the newspaper said.
Editor’s note: The following description of AJ Freund’s life and death are graphic and may be difficult for some readers.
‘Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me’
The arrest affidavit, written by Detective Edwin Maldonado of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, details the investigation that began when Crystal Lake police officers went to the Freund-Cunningham home, which Maldonado described as being in a “hoarder-like condition.” Bags of refuse filled the basement, as well as other portions of the house and the detached garage, the investigator wrote.
Photos from around the time of AJ’s birth in 2013, obtained by ABC7 in Chicago, appear to show the dirty and cluttered condition of the home. AJ spent almost the first two years of his life in foster care because he was born with opiates in his system, police said.
See the photos below, courtesy of ABC7.
ABC7 also obtained reports of 17 visits to the house by social workers over the five years of AJ’s life. The reports document horrid living conditions, concerns over the welfare of AJ and Parker and alleged drug use by the parents, the news station said.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was last called to the family’s home at 94 Dole Ave. in December, after police were called about a possible burglary there. The responding officer noted deplorable living conditions inside the home, including dog feces and urine all over the house, broken and jagged flooring in the kitchen, a ceiling peeling from water damage and several broken windows.
She also noted a suspicious bruise on AJ’s hip and temporarily removed him and Parker from the home. Police reports said AJ and Cunningham both said the bruise was caused by the family’s boxer, Lucy, but CNN reported that AJ told a different story to an emergency room doctor.
“Maybe someone hit me with a belt,” AJ told the doctor, according to a DCFS report obtained by CNN. “Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
The doctor could not definitively determine the cause of the bruise, despite AJ’s statements, and the case was closed a month later, the news network said.
The Daily Herald reported that Marc D. Smith, acting DCFS director, told state legislators last month that two caseworkers who worked on the Freund case had been removed from working cases as the agency conducts a review of how the case was handled.
“The news of his death is heartbreaking, and all of us feel this loss,” Smith told lawmakers, according to the newspaper. “The death of a child that was in our care and a family that we were involved with is unacceptable to me and this department. DCFS is currently conducting a comprehensive review of our work with AJ’s family.”
Maldonado wrote in the affidavit that a check of the Crystal Lake Police Department’s database showed numerous previous calls to the family’s home, mainly for welfare checks and domestic violence complaints. Both Freund, who is a licensed lawyer, and Cunningham are admitted former drug abusers.
A forensic search of Freund’s cellphone, conducted with his permission, found that someone had Googled “child CPR” on April 15, the night investigators allege AJ was slain, the affidavit said. Freund’s cellphone also held a photo of a shopping list, which included duct tape, plastic gloves, bleach and air freshener.
Investigators found inside the house a pair of men’s Nike shoes with “dripping wet mud” on the soles. The shoes were sent to the FBI lab at Quantico, Virginia, for analysis of the mud, Maldonado wrote.
According to the affidavit, detectives searching the house also found a bag of laundry that smelled strongly of bleach. Four empty bleach bottles were found in garbage bags and cans around the property.
A laptop and a roll of duct tape were found in an upstairs closet, the document said.
During interviews with investigators on April 18, Freund told them he discovered his son was missing when he returned home around 8:30 a.m. from an early morning doctor’s appointment in Elgin, about 15 miles south of Crystal Lake. Police checked with the doctor’s office to see if Freund was being truthful.
The office staff confirmed Freund’s appointment, but the receptionist who checked him out shared an odd comment the suspect allegedly made.
“The lawyer in me thinks I need a paper trail,” she quoted Freund as saying when she offered him a receipt of his payment, Maldonado wrote.
When he was initially asked about the shopping list found on his phone, Freund listed the items he bought but left off the gloves and duct tape. He ultimately admitted he bought those items but claimed the gloves were for cleaning and his wife used duct tape to hang photos, the affidavit said.
When the topic of the “child CPR” search came up, Freund said his wife -- who was seven months pregnant -- may have Googled the topic because of the impending arrival of the baby. When detectives asked why she would need that information after already raising two young sons, Freund had no answer, the affidavit said.
The topic of the interview then turned to discipline.
“During the interview, Drew explained that AJ’s mother believed AJ had oppositional defiance disorder, ODD,” the document stated. “Drew explained AJ thinks of himself as the leader of the home and therefore, he is defiant to his parents, lies, disobeys and thinks things should go his way.”
Freund admitted that he and Cunningham sometimes locked AJ in his room at night.
Detectives asked Freund about a time when AJ had to be punished in that way. Freund told them about a time AJ was locked in his room for five hours after doing a poor job washing dishes and stacking them improperly. He claimed AJ lied about who stacked the dishes and needed to be punished, the affidavit said.
‘AJ fell down the stairs and had a lot of owies’
Investigators interviewed Parker Freund on April 19, Maldonado wrote.
The little boy told interviewers that his mother told him AJ “fell down the stairs and had a lot of owies” while Parker was asleep. According to the affidavit, Parker also told authorities he was told by his parents not to talk about AJ.
The next day, Freund was again brought in for questioning, the affidavit said. The topic of the duct tape again was brought up, and Freund said duct tape could be used for a lot of things.
One thing he mentioned was taping a Rubbermaid tote shut. Maldonado wrote that he had seen several Rubbermaid totes in the family’s basement, including at least two big enough to hold the body of a 5-year-old child.
Neither contained a body, however, and neither had duct tape on them, the investigator wrote.
Further forensic analysis of both Freund’s cellphone and Cunningham’s phone found text messages and other items that had been deleted. Included in those deleted texts were messages Cunningham sent to a friend complaining about AJ’s behavior, which she attributed to the oppositional defiance disorder she believed he had, Maldonado wrote.
The entirety of the exchanges was found on the friend’s phone, the court document said.
Investigators said they also obtained from Apple the chilling March 4 video, which had been deleted from Cunningham’s phone.
“AJ is seen laying on a bare mattress in a crib in a room I recognized to be his bedroom from 94 Dole Ave.,” Maldonado wrote in the affidavit. “In the video, a female with a voice consistent with JoAnn’s is holding the phone and videotaping. She is berating AJ for urinating on his bed.
“AJ is seen to (be) naked except for some small bandages around both wrists and circling his hips. AJ is seen to be holding an ice pack to his face and when he removes it, he is seen to have deep red bruising around his eyes, and yellowish-greenish bruising around his neck and upper chest.”
Maldonado wrote that it did not appear that AJ received medical treatment for the beating he seemed to have suffered.
Freund told detectives the injuries seen in the video were caused by his wife. He also told them he believed his son died April 15 after being forced into a cold shower for a prolonged period of time.
“Drew explained he wanted JoAnn to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent form of punishment,” Maldonado wrote. “Drew said cold showers was decided (upon).”
Freund then told investigators AJ had soiled his underwear the night of April 15 and lied about it, so he was forced into a cold shower for about 20 minutes. He said he helped his son out of the shower afterward and put him to bed.
AJ was “cold, wet and naked” when he was put to bed, the affidavit said.
“Drew said JoAnn got up and checked on AJ and that was when she got Drew and she used Drew’s phone to search for child CPR,” the document said.
Freund said he realized at that time that his son had died. He took AJ’s body down to the basement, where he stored it in a Rubbermaid tote for the next two days, the affidavit read.
On the night of April 17 -- the night the couple initially claimed they’d put AJ to bed after “brushing teeth, washing hands and saying prayers” -- Freund wrapped his son’s body in several trash bags, placed him in the trunk of his car and drove him to a wooded area about 8 miles from home, Maldonado wrote.
There, he dug a shallow grave, placed AJ’s body in it, covered him with straw and left, the affidavit said.