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Judge denies woman’s challenge to conviction in son’s death

June 1, 2022 GMT

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) — A suburban Chicago woman who pleaded guilty in her 5-year-old son’s beating death cannot challenge her conviction and 35-year sentence, a judge ruled Wednesday

JoAnn Cunningham, 39, of Crystal Lake, claimed in her March petition for post-conviction relief that she suffered from postpartum depression and psychosis when she killed her son. Cunningham claimed she was “seeing demons and hearing voices” at the time of her son AJ’s death.

Authorities say Cunningham killed AJ on April 15, 2019, after she became angry about soiled underwear that he had tried to hide. She forced the boy to stand in a cold shower for at least 20 minutes, hit him in the head with the shower head, then put him to bed cold, wet and naked, according to authorities.

AJ’s body was found wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave near the family’s home in Crystal Lake.

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt presided over her negotiated plea on Dec. 5, 2019, and sentencing on July 16, 2020. Andrew Freund, AJ’s father, also pleaded guilty in his death and is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

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Wilbrandt wrote in his ruling that Cunningham’s arguments in her petition “do not provide the ‘gist’ of a meritorious claim of substantial deprivation of a federal or state constitutional right and that they are patently without merit.”

Cunningham argued that no witnesses were called to testify on her behalf; she was not allowed to testify herself, nor did she provide a confession; she was not read her Miranda rights; and she was “illiterate” as to her constitutional rights, The Northwest Herald reported.

Wilbrandt wrote in his ruling, that witnesses were called on her behalf and defense attorneys presented “wide-ranging evidence” of her history of drug abuse and substance abuse treatment. She also provided a lengthy statement addressing her “long-standing history of both prescribed and illegal drug use,” the judge wrote.

Wilbrandt also dismissed as “without merit” Cunningham’s claim that her 35-year prison sentence is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Cunningham filed the handwritten petition from prison without the help of an attorney.