The parents accused of killing 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund pleaded not guilty Friday to first-degree murder charges and other allegations tied to the boy’s death.
JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund appeared separately in McHenry County court Friday morning, where the packed courtroom was silent as a judge read aloud from a 30-page grand jury indictment that prosecutors filed Thursday afternoon.
Both Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, requested trials by jury. McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt additionally granted a request to have Freund psychologically evaluated.
If the parents were to be convicted of first-degree murder, they could be sentenced to between 20 and 60 years in prison, or up to natural life. They would also face consecutive sentencing, and could be required to register as violent offenders against youth, McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Rita Gara said in court.
The indictment, a list of charges formally approved by a McHenry County grand jury, outlined the “brutal and heinous” behavior that prosecutors said led to the young boy’s death. A Correctional Emergency Response Team officer stood behind Cunningham and Freund as they listened to the charges, while another CERT officer stood near the crowd of people in the gallery wearing “Justice for AJ” shirts and blue ribbons.
Cunningham and Freund are accused of repeatedly striking AJ and forcing him to take “time outs” for hours at a time between Sept. 20 and April 17, charging documents show.
The parents also are charged with battering AJ on March 4. Police previously found a video from that day on Cunningham’s phone. In it, Cunningham is heard “berating” a bandaged and severely bruised AJ, according to a police affidavit that has since been sealed.
Freund’s special public defender, Henry Sugden, lamented in court Friday that his client’s case already has been “tried in the press” and asked the judge to issue a gag order barring investigators and attorneys from speaking to representatives of the news media. One of Cunningham’s public defenders, Angelo Mourelatos, joined Sugden in the request.
Wilbrandt, however, didn’t rule on the matter, which he said was “too broad.” Instead, he suggested the attorneys consider establishing a “decorum order” akin to the one filed in R. Kelly’s 2002 criminal case on child pornography charges.
Sugden argued that a decorum order would be more restrictive than what he was originally seeking. The order in Kelly’s case restrained the speech of the attorneys and witnesses, and sealed certain pretrial proceedings.
Cunningham and Freund are due back on court June 18.
AJ’s body was found April 24 in a shallow grave near Woodstock. Prosecutors allege he was beaten to death by his parents April 15. They each are being held in the McHenry County Jail on $5 million bonds.