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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — A Crystal Lake mother who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her 5-year-old son, AJ Freund, went before a judge Thursday morning and sobbed as she made a statement to the court.

JoAnn Cunningham, 37, faces a sentence ranging from 20 to 60 years in AJ’s killing. Prosecutors have said she must serve her entire sentence, meaning that if she receives the maximum sentence she will die in prison.

Cunningham sobbed Thursday afternoon as she told the judge as much as she deserves punishment she believes she deserves help.

“I would give my life to have AJ back,” she said. She begged for mercy and forgiveness as she spoke to the judge.

Cellphone audio was played of AJ during court.

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Six Flags Great America released the following statement regarding the shooting:

Six Flags dedicates our greatest amount of time, talent and resources to safety and security.

Layers of preventative measures both inside and outside the park are in place for the protection of guests and team members. We continue to review and enhance our protocol on a daily basis to ensure we are providing the highest level of safety.

Cameras placed in the parking lot and inside the park, uniformed and plain clothes patrols throughout the property, and advanced screening technology allow us to react quickly and provide important information. The park security team is joined by the Gurnee Police Department, who operates a substation at the park.

This evening, we are incredibly grateful to our team members who reacted in a professional manner to take care of our guests, and for the Gurnee Police Department for their on-going presence and commitment to Six Flags Great America.

After first reporting AJ missing in April of 2019, Cunningham along with AJ‘s father, AJ Freund Sr., finally led police to the 5-year-old’s body in a shallow grave. This was after police confronted Freund Sr. with cell phone video showing the child being beaten.

An autopsy revealed that the boy had been struck multiple times and died from blunt force trauma.

Freund Sr. has pled not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial.

In exchange for Cunningham’s guilty plea, prosecutors have taken life behind bars off the table. The minimum the 37-year-old could get is 20 years with the maximum being 60, which would essentially be a life sentence. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only about eight friends and family of AJ will be allowed in the courtroom for the hearing.

The judge is expected to hand down Cunnngham’s sentence on Friday.

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