The Crystal Lake parents accused of killing 5-year-old AJ Freund have agreed to have the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services care for their younger son, while prosecutors attempt to revoke the former couple’s parental rights.
JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. sat two chairs apart Monday in a McHenry County juvenile courtroom. Both parents were charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in connection with the death of their son, AJ, whom they reported missing days after allegedly forcing him into a cold shower and beating him to death, police have said.
Prosecutors also filed a petition seeking more permanent measures to terminate 60-year-old Freund’s and 36-year-old Cunningham’s parental rights.
If the parents are found unfit, their child could be moved to another home longterm or placed for adoption, DCFS Deputy of Communications Jassen Strokosch said. The process could take several months. For now, neither Cunningham nor Freund is allowed to have contact with the boy, whom an attorney will represent in court.
After AJ’s disappearance, DCFS removed the boy’s younger brother from the home while the agency investigates abuse and neglect allegations. Details about the 4-year-old boy’s living arrangements were not disclosed in open court. Before additional decisions are made, Freund must complete a paternity test to confirm that he is the younger child’s biological father. The case will reconvene May 30.
In the meantime, a volunteer from the nonprofit organization, Court Appointed Special Advocates, will be assigned to meet with AJ’s younger brother and other people close to the situation on an ongoing basis. The court advocacy group will then write an objective report about the child’s well being, CASA Senior Advocate Manager Jorie Siemens said.
Cunningham and Freund have been in the McHenry County Jail on $5 million bonds since Wednesday, when investigators found AJ’s body buried in a shallow grave in an unincorporated area near Woodstock. They each made appearances in criminal court Monday on a litany of charges tied to the young boy’s death and the steps they allegedly took to hide it from police.
Cunningham kept her head down as Correctional Emergency Response Team officers in bulletproof vests escorted her into the courtroom. The former hairdresser told the judge she had no bank accounts and her house was in foreclosure. Attorneys from the McHenry County Public Defender’s Office will represent Cunningham throughout both the criminal and juvenile proceedings. Although Cunningham previously hired private attorneys at KRV Legal to represent her, the law firm has since withdrawn from the civil matter.
Freund was expressionless and in shackles as he went before the felony judge. He is making arrangements to hire his own attorney in the criminal case by his next court date May 3, and both parents are due in felony court May 10. A public defender will represent Freund on all juvenile matters.
Neighbors and strangers filled the courtroom gallery Monday, some in blue T-shirts reading “Justice for AJ.”
Amber Jeschke, who lives a few blocks from Freund and Cunningham’s 94 Dole Ave. home, wishes the parents would have spoken up about struggling to raise their children in a safe environment, she said.
“If you couldn’t take care of a young boy – let someone know,” she said.
Jeschke doesn’t know AJ’s family personally, but has previously seen police at the home, she said. In the days leading up the boy’s reported April 18 disappearance, Jeschke took note that, despite the nice weather, she hadn’t seen AJ playing outside like usual.
“You always get that uneasy feeling when you know something isn’t right at that home,” she said.