CHICAGO (CBS) — Andrew Freund Sr., the Crystal Lake man charged with killing his 5-year-old son, A.J., was sentenced to 30 years in prison, after he pleaded guilty to three felony charges on Friday, as part of a negotiated deal with McHenry County prosecutors.
Freund, 61, pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery to a child, and concealment of a homicide. He was sentenced to 14 years for involuntary manslaughter, 11 years for aggravated battery, and 5 years for concealment of a homicide, to be served consecutively. Prosecutors dropped more serious charges of murder as part of the plea deal. He will be given credit for time served, because Freund has been in custody since April 2019.
Freund will also have to register under the Violent Offender Against Youth Act.
His defense attorney, Henry Sugden, was in talks with prosecutors on a plea deal for nearly a year.
As part of his deal, Freund also must register as a violent offender, take part in behavioral interviews for the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, and cooperate with an investigation of DCFS’s handling of his son’s case. DCFS employees had previously investigated claims A.J.’s parents had abused him, but determined the claims to be unfounded, despite concerns raised by police and others.
A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, who also was charged with A.J.’s death, pleaded guilty to murder last December, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in July.
During Friday’s sentencing, prosecutor Patrick Kenneally detailed Freund’s involvement in the abuse of A.J., what he saw Cunningham do and what he told police investigating the child’s death and disappearance.
In reading the prosecution’s case, Kenneally said Freund participated in interviews with police regarding A.J.’s disappearance in April of 2019 and denied knowing the whereabouts of the child. Freund said to police that AJ was stubborn and headstrong. Freund admitted that A.J. was subjected to spankings and time outs. Freund said that he did spank A.J. hard when he was really upset at the boy.
At one point, Freund said when the child was asked about the underwear and he wouldn’t answer, Cunningham put a shower nozzle in his face, at times causing A.J. to lose his balance and fall in the tub.
The investigators said Cunningham said she was experiencing “a lot of rage” and “lost control” that night. She said she didn’t know where Freund was at the time.
Freund said on the night of AJ’s death, he was woken up after 3:00 a.m. by Cunningham and was told that A.J. was not breathing.
In the interviews with police, Freund said Cunningham was the primary caretaker of the child. He told police he didn’t get home from work until after 9:00 p.m. During the investigation with the Crystal Lake Police Department and the FBI, information from his iPhone revealed that at 3:00 a.m. on April 15, a Google search was made for child CPR.
Freund told authorities A.J. had died on April 14 after he said she hit the child and placed him in a cold shower. Freund said the abuse wasn’t intentional and he added that often he would have to intercede and he said he tried to convince Cunningham “that’s not the way to go.”
He said A.J. was told he could not come out of the cold shower. Freund said he agreed to it because the alternative would have been more physical abuse. Freund said one of the incidents leading up to A.J .being put in the shower was that Cunningham found underwear and when she questioned the boy he wouldn’t say where it came from.
The prosecution continued that when Freund and Cunningham realized that A.J. was dead, Freund said he would “take care of it” by putting the child’s body in a large plastic tote in the basement. Freund got a couple of plastic bags and drove A.J.’s remains out of the home.
It was on April 24 that Freund led authorities to a shallow grave in rural Woodstock where the child’s body was found. An autopsy revealed A.J. had multiple blunt force injuries to his head, torso and extremities as well as severe swelling of the brain. AJ also had blood in his lungs.
In the interview with authorities, Freund said Cunningham wasn’t happy about abusing A.J. “My guess is that I think she was looking for support. I don’t think she enjoyed this. I think she was looking for some sort of support from me in disciplining A.J. Please can you help. This is how bad it’s getting.”
Judge Robert Wildbrant offered Freund a chance to address the court before sentencing but Freund refused.
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 burial site. 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.
Polovin pleaded not guilty on Thursday, and is due back in court next month. Acosta is scheduled for arraignment next week.
Polovin and Acosta have been accused of failing to properly investigate allegations concerning A.J.’s treatment, despite concerns raised by police and others.
It’s a case legal experts call unprecedented in Illinois; charging DCFS employees with a crime over the death of a child they were assigned to protect at the hands of his parents.
Polovin and Acosta were fired from DCFS last December, along with DCFS caseworker Kathleen Gold, who has not been charged with a crime.
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.