One more chapter in the tragic story of AJ Freund has been closed.
During a negotiated plea hearing this afternoon (Friday, September 18, 2020), McHenry County (Illinois) prosecutor Patrick Kenneally laid out the terms of a plea deal negotiated between himself and Henry “Hank” Sugden, defense attorney for AJ’s father, Andrew “Drew” Freund Sr.
Drew and AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, were arrested in April of 2019 after falsely reporting their five-year-old son, Andrew Thomas “AJ” Freund Jr., missing from the family’s Crystal Lake, Illinois home on April 18. Several days later, Drew led police to AJ’s body, where he had buried it, wrapped in plastic, in a shallow grave.
Per the terms of the plea agreement, the majority of Drew’s multiple criminal charges would be dropped, leaving him with only three charges: count 1, aggravated battery of a child; count 2, involuntary manslaughter; and count 3, concealment of a homicidal death. In exchange for his guilty plea, Drew would be sentenced to 30 years in prison, which I’ll break down in a moment, as well as other terms and conditions.
Drew and his attorney accepted the plea agreement.
Judge Robert Wilbrandt requested Mr. Kenneally read the state’s 15 page statement into the record, which the prosecutor did, quickly reading aloud the statement presenting the evidence the state would have presented had there been a criminal trial. There was nothing we hadn’t already heard from the sentencing hearing in July for JoAnn Cunningham, AJ’s mother, who accepted responsibility for AJ’s murder (legally, at least), which took place on the evening of April 14, 2019 when JoAnn forced AJ into a cold shower and repeatedly beat him with the showerhead so savagely that his brain swelled and herniated, causing his death later that night. JoAnn was sentenced in July to 35 years in prison.
After the statement was read, the judge immediately commenced with Drew’s sentencing.
For count 1, aggravated battery of a child, a class X felony: Drew was sentenced to 11 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections with three years of mandatory supervised release to follow. He will serve a minimum of 85% of that sentence.
For count 2, involuntary manslaughter, a class 2 felony: Drew was sentenced to 14 years in the Illinois DOC with two years of mandatory supervised release. He will serve a minimum of 50% of that sentence.
For count 3, concealment of a homicidal death, a class 3 felony: Drew was sentenced to 5 years in the Illinois DOC with one year of mandatory supervised release.
The three prison terms are to be served consecutively for the protection of the public. I did the math; the minimum amount of time Drew will serve in prison is 18 years and a little over 10 months. He was also given credit for time served; he has been in custody since April 24, 2019, which means he has already served nearly 17 months of his sentence. He could be walking the streets again as early as February of 2038.
When Drew is released from prison, he must register as a violent offender against youth; he must also cooperate in the ongoing DCFS investigation into AJ’s death, including giving truthful interviews. Finally, he must participate in a series of interviews with the FBI’s National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, Behavioral Analysis Unit 3, for research purposes, which will take place over a period of several days.
Of course, we all know that AJ’s murderers, particularly his mother for actively committing the ultimate betrayal against her son, deserved more time in prison than they received, but prosecutors often negotiate plea bargains with defendants for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to save the state’s taxpayers millions of dollars for a costly trial. On top of that, there is no guarantee that taking a defendant to trial will result in justice, either. If we learned anything from the 2011 trial of Casey Anthony for the murder of her two-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, it’s that even the most obviously guilty defendants can be acquitted if the jury is stupid or gullible enough.
This is what will have to serve as justice for AJ, at least as far as his parents are concerned. When the sentencing hearing ended, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears of disappointment and sorrow for the sweet little blond boy from Illinois who stole my heart from the moment I saw his picture last April.
Still pending in the court are the charges against Carlos Acosta and Andrew Polovin, the DCFS employees who oversaw AJ’s case with the agency in the months leading up to his death. AJ’s estate, acting on behalf of his three surviving siblings, also filed a lawsuit against DCFS that includes the same two men, among others; that lawsuit is also still pending.
I’ll continue to provide updates as they become available. Even when the last chapter is closed, however, I will never forget AJ Freund, and I will never allow AJ’s memory to fade or his face to be forgotten.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of AJ’s case.
Sources: Courtroom video via ABC 7 Chicago