JoAnn Cunningham, the suburban Chicago woman who pleaded guilty in the death of her 5-year-old son AJ Freund, is challenging her conviction and 35-year sentence, saying she suffered from postpartum depression and psychosis when she killed her son.
Cunningham, 39, of Crystal Lake, claimed in her petition for compensation after her conviction that she had not been provided with an adequate lawyer. She claimed to have seen demons and believed her son was possessed by a demon, and said she had requested an exorcism from a priest, a chaplain and AJ’s father, Andrew Freund, reported the Northwest Herald.
McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt, who sentenced Cunningham, said Friday he has 90 days to decide whether the post-conviction motion has merit. If relief is granted, it could result in Cunningham’s guilty plea and sentence being quashed and a date could be set for a new trial.
If Wilbrandt finds his claims justified, then he will appoint a lawyer for Cunningham and allow prosecutors to provide input, the judge said during a hearing on Friday.
At the time of AJ’s death, Cunningham was pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter while in McHenry County Jail. This child and another son, who was about two years younger than AJ, were placed in foster care. Cunningham is incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.
Andrew Freund, 63, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault on a child and concealment of death by homicide. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and is incarcerated at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton.
Authorities said on April 15, 2019, Cunningham became angry with her son when she found soiled underwear he was trying to hide. He died after she forced the child to stand in a cold shower for at least 20 minutes, hit him on the head with the shower head, then put him to bed cold, wet and naked , according to the authorities.
Her body was found wrapped in plastic and concealed in a shallow grave near the family home in Crystal Lake.