JoAnn Cunningham, the mother of AJ Freund, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison in the 5-year-old's brutal death in April 2019. AJ died after being beaten by Cunningham and forced to stand in a cold shower after soiling himself.
After a frantic six-day search, AJ's body was discovered wrapped in plastic and covered with straw in a shallow grave in a rural area outside Chicago. Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in December.
His father, Andrew Freund Sr., had reported the boy missing. He pleaded not guilty to murder and several other charges, and is awaiting trial.
"I love him. I miss him. There's nothing I wouldn't do to bring him back," Cunningham said in a tearful statement in a court hearing ahead of the sentencing. "My heart and my mind are consumed with despair, pain, sadness, grief, unceasing anguish and extreme remorse."
A recording played in court of the little boy's voice proved to be crucial evidence, in which AJ told his mom he wanted to see her hurt so he didn't have to ever see again.
AJ lived in nightmarish conditions inside of a house near Chicago. In a photo of one room, toys and old clothes are scattered everywhere. In another, cans of food are stored under the bed.
The day the boy died, prosecutors say he was forced to take a 20 minute cold shower and was beaten with the shower head as a punishment for soiling himself.
"I will never be able to justify anything," Cunningham said. "Nor do I ever want to. Through my negligence, weaknesses and failures, I created a host of problems for me."
As part of her sentence, Cunningham must also serve three years of supervised release and register as a violent offender.