Case Update: Court for AJ Freund’s Parents; Mom’s Sentencing Date Set; House Demolition to Begin Wednesday

AJ Freund
Five-year-old AJ Freund.
(Chicago Sun-Times)

I’m sure you’re all very familiar with the story of AJ Freund by now. I’ve made several posts about him on the blog, and in the first episode of the Suffer the Little Children podcast, which came out last week, I covered AJ’s life and his tragic death. 

I have a few updates about AJ’s case and his “allegedly” murderous parents tonight, so let’s get into it.

First, AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and his father, Andrew “Drew” Freund Sr., both appeared in court on Thursday, February 27 for separate status hearings at the McHenry County courthouse in Woodstock, Illinois. 

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt set the date for JoAnn’s sentencing hearing as April 30. JoAnn pleaded guilty in December to the April murder of five-year-old AJ. She faces up to 60 years in prison when she is sentenced, which means she would not be eligible for parole until she is 96. Cross your fingers, people.

JoAnn Cunningham leaves the courtroom on February 27, 2020
JoAnn leaves the courtroom after her February 27 hearing.
(Chicago Tribune via the Northwest Herald)

JoAnn will have one more status hearing, this one scheduled for March 19, before her sentencing. 

As for Drew, at his status hearing on Thursday, he decided to waive his right to a jury trial in his murder case. This means he will instead face a bench trial, in which a judge, rather than a jury of 12 of his peers, will decide whether he is guilty of his son’s murder. 

Judge Wilbrandt grilled Drew momentarily about the decision, ensuring Drew had not been coerced or threatened into signing the jury waiver document. In reply to each question, Drew replied that he understood his rights and what a bench trial would entail.

Drew Freund and attorney Henry Sugden leave the courtroom on February 27, 2020
Drew and his attorney leave the courtroom on February 27.
(Chicago Tribune via the Northwest Herald)

According to the Daily Herald, Drew’s attorney, Henry Sugden, explained that a jury trial would have to be held outside the county due to the high profile nature of the case and the publicity it has generated in McHenry County. He added that the issues of the case are legal, not factual, although he did not elaborate on that statement. “The issue in this case is not for a jury,” he said. “The issue is for a judge.”

Drew and his attorney have reportedly been trying to negotiate a plea deal, but as of yet, he has not changed his plea from not guilty. His next status hearing is on April 24. 

At long last, the house at 94 Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake, Illinois where AJ was allegedly beaten to death by his parents is set to be demolished. The property has been fenced in and the equipment sits at the ready as Green Demolition Contractors Inc. prepares to begin demolition of the house at 7:00 AM on Wednesday morning.

The house has been vacant since JoAnn and Drew were arrested on April 24, 2019. 

The company has donated its services to the city of Crystal Lake. The next lowest bid would have cost the city $18,700. Before demolition could begin, asbestos had to be removed from the bathroom and the basement, a $5,500 contract that was made with Environmental Cleansing Corp.

AJ Freund murder house prior to demolition
The Freund house sits, boarded and vacant, prior to its long awaited demolition.
(Northwest Herald)

Repairing the house to bring it up to city code would have been an even more costly endeavor, as Crystal Lake inspectors noted 41 code violations. The roof would need to be removed and replaced, as would the gutters; padlocks would need to be removed from interior doors; two toilets would have to be removed and replaced; and a new sump pump would need to be installed. These repairs would cost, by one construction company’s estimate, $103,290. 

When the demolition is complete and the lot is empty, the property will be worth an estimated $28,000.

Neighbors look forward to the destruction of the house they say brings back painful memories. 

Cafe Olympic owner Rachel Mucci told CBS Chicago, “I drive past it every single day coming to the cafe. Whether it’s boarded up or there’s flowers, it’s painful.” Regarding AJ’s death, she said, “This is something that never heals. It stays with us forever, but I do feel the house being gone is a step in the right direction to change. To change something that was broken.”

Sources: Northwest Herald, CBS Chicago, NBC Chicago, The Oklahoman

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