(nbcnews) – A judge said evidence shows that JoAnn Cunningham repeatedly hit her 5-year-old son in the head with a metal shower sprinkler before he died.
The Illinois mother of a 5-year-old boy who was murdered last year was sentenced Friday to 35 years in prison.
JoAnn Cunningham, wearing orange prison clothes and a face mask, appeared in a McHenry County court for the second day of her sentencing hearing. Her son, Andrew Freund, Jr., was killed in April 2019 after he was beaten and left in a cold shower, according to a criminal complaint.
The boy’s father, Andrew Freund, Sr., had reported him missing from their suburban Chicago home before the child’s body was found buried in a shallow grave about 20 minutes away in Woodstock.
His cause of death was ruled as craniocerebral trauma as a consequence of multiple blunt force injuries.
Judge Robert Wilbrandt said evidence shows that Cunningham repeatedly hit her son in the head with a metal shower sprinkler, took him out of the shower while he was still alive, and then locked him in his room alone.
“AJ tragically died from the after-effects of blunt force trauma,” the judge said. “It was a horrible death preceded by a horrible life.”
Following her prison sentence, Cunningham will serve an additional three years of mandatory supervised release.
Cunningham, 37, and Freund, 61, initially pleaded not guilty in their son’s death after a grand jury indicted them on 20 charges each, which included three counts of murder and one count of concealing a death.
In December, Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder as part of a deal that dropped all of the other charges. She faced up to a maximum of 60 years in prison. Freund has not changed his plea and is awaiting trial.
During the sentencing, Cunningham cried as she read a letter to the court.
“I had the privilege of having AJ as a son. When I had him, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I love him. I miss him. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to bring him back,” she said in a video published by NBC Chicago.
Cunningham went on to say that there is “great sorrow in my heart.”
“I will never be able to justify anything nor do I ever want to. Through my negligence, my weaknesses and failures created a host of problems for me,” she said. “I would give my life to have AJ back. This is something I will never escape from and am impacted forever by my horrendous choices. I cannot change the decisions of my past. I ask you to help me put the million scattered pieces of my heart back together. I need love, not more pain.”
Freund led police to his son’s body after they confronted him with a video that showed Andrew with bruises on his body, according to court records. In the footage, a woman believed to be Cunningham is seen berating the child for urinating on the bed.
A medical examiner testified during the sentencing hearing that Andrew suffered broken ribs and had severe swelling on his brain prior to his death, NBC Chicago reports. Prosecutors also talked about prior incidents of abuse.
JoEllen Channon, an emergency room doctor, told the courtroom that during a conversation with Andrew months before his death he said that he had been hit with a belt.
“I asked him if he had been spanked or hit? He said yes. I asked him with what? He said a belt,” she said, according to the outlet. “I asked him who did it. He said someone not in my family, but then he offered, maybe mom didn’t mean to hurt me.”