CHICAGO (CBS) — Andrew Freund Sr., the Crystal Lake man charged with killing his 5-year-old son, A.J., is expected to formally enter a plea agreement later this week.
During a status hearing Wednesday morning, defense attorney Henry Sugden told McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt that he has been in negotiations with prosecutors on a plea deal, and were close to bringing the case to a conclusion.
Wilbrandt scheduled a hearing on the negotiated plea for Friday afternoon. A tentative trial date previously had been scheduled for December.
Freund’s defense attorney has been in talks on a negotiated plea for nearly a year now.
A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, who also was charged with the boy’s murder, pleaded guilty in December, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in July.
A.J.’s parents were charged with a combined 61 counts in April 2019, including murder, aggravated battery, and concealing a homicide, after their son was found beaten to death and buried in a shallow grave in a field in Woodstock. An autopsy determined A.J. died of multiple blunt force injuries to his head.
Police and prosecutors say A.J.’s parents forced him into a cold shower as punishment for soiling his clothes, and severely beat him on April 15, 2019. His father later found him dead in his bed at their home in Crystal Lake and buried him in a shallow grave. A.J.’s parents falsely reported him missing three days later.
For days, the community prayed A.J. was alive. But police found A.J.’s body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave in Woodstock on April 24 after his father led authorities to the shallow grave. His parents later were charged with A.J.’s death.
Last week, a former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services caseworker and his supervisor, who both worked on the A.J. Freund case, were arrested on child endangerment charges.
Carlos Acosta, 54, of Woodstock, and Andrew Polovin, 48, of Island Lake, were charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one count of reckless conduct, according to the McHenry County Sheriff’s office. They are accused of failing to protect A.J.
Acosta and Polovin were both fired last fall for their handling of A.J.’s case, along with DCFS caseworker Kathleen Gold.
DCFS had had prior contact with the family, but investigators had deemed allegations of abuse unfounded, despite concerns from a doctor and police.
A.J.’s estate filed a federal lawsuit last fall against Acosta and Polovin, accusing them of either failing to investigate allegations he had been abused, or improperly determining the allegations were unfounded, despite concerns raised by police and others.
DCFS handling of A.J.’s case came under intense scrutiny after his death, in light of agency reports that revealed A.J. told a doctor of possible abuse four months before he was killed.
In December 2018, a DCFS investigator deemed neglect allegations against A.J.’s mother unfounded, after a doctor could not pinpoint the cause of a mysterious bruise on the boy’s hip.
Crystal Lake Police had called DCFS after Cunningham had been arrested for driving on a suspended license in 2018, according to Crystal Lake Police Department reports. The officer had visited the family’s home, and noted not only was the house in deplorable condition, but A.J. was running around wearing only a pull-up and sporting a large bruise on his hip.
When a DCFS investigator arrived, A.J. said he suffered the bruise “when the family dog pawed him.” However, after going to the hospital to have the bruise checked, a doctor told the DCFS investigator A.J. claimed “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” according to a DCFS timeline.
The doctor said he could not determine how A.J. was injured, stating the bruise “could have been caused by a dog, belt or a football,” according to the report.
The investigator released A.J. back into his parents’ custody, but advised his father to stay at home “as a safety precaution.”
The DCFS report also revealed significant discrepancies between the deplorable conditions police had found inside the since-demolished home, and the conditions the DCFS investigator noted one day later. The investigator ultimately deemed allegations of neglect unfounded, “due to lack of evidence for cuts, welt and bruises allegation.”
The DCFS timeline also revealed that Cunningham was being investigated for her behavior as foster parent, before A.J. was born. In June, 2012, she was accused of abusing prescription drugs and neglecting her foster child.
Four months later, A.J.’s parents allegedly forced him into a cold shower for an extended period of time, and beat him to death. They reported him missing three days later, prompting a weeklong search that led to the discovery of his body wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave about seven miles from the family home in Crystal Lake.