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'I Would Give My Life To Have A.J. Back;' JoAnn Cunningham Tearfully Begs For Mercy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The sentencing hearing for JoAnn Cunningham reached a dramatic conclusion Thursday afternoon when she addressed the judge and asked for forgiveness and leniency.

Cunningham asked the court for forgiveness because said she too is a victim. She said she loved A.J., the 5-year-old son whom she admits to murdering.

Cunningham called herself a loving, kind woman.

"I would give my life to have A.J. back," Cunningham said in court Thursday. "This is something I will never escape from. I am impacted forever."

Speaking to the judge at the end of her sentencing hearing today, she was  emotional, remorseful, a far different demeanor now than 15 months ago.

"All of my children are sacred," said Cunningham.

Moments before a Crystal Lake detective interviewed her about her missing five-year-old son in April of 2019, Cunningham can be seen on video praying for A.J.'s safe return.

"You had nothing to do with this, correct?" asked the detective.

"Absolutely not," said Cunningham.

RELATED: Phone Call Between JoAnn Cunningham And CBS 2's Brad Edwards Used In Sentencing Hearing

That turned out to be a lie. A.J.'s  father Andrew Freund ultimately led police to the little boy's shallow grave. It was just some of the evidence and testimony presented at Cunningham's sentencing hearing. She switched her murder plea to guilty from not guilty in December.

There was testimony about one of several police visits to the family's Crystal Lake home prior to A.J.'s murder, which exhibited clear signs of abuse, drugs and neglect. Prosecutors showed pictures from inside the cluttered, dirty home, including some of A.J.'s crib in a filthy room with a padlock on the door to lock him inside.

And they played video and audio from Cunningham's own cell phone. One was her berating A.J. about going to the bathroom a month before she killed him.

"Do you swear on this family, yes or no?" Cunningham can be heard saying.

"Um, I do," A.J. says.

"Ok, awesome," Cunningham says. "What is this? What are those?"

"Um, that's from the paper towel thing," A.J. says.

"This is from, no, this is, that's from piss!" Cunningham says.

At times, a significantly heavier Cunningham looked down and wiped away tears.

Another cell phone audio exchange, between Cunningham and A.J. just two and a half weeks before his death also clearly upset others in the courtroom.

"I just don't want a family please," A.J. can be heard saying.

"You don't have one," Cunningham responds.

Prosecutors in McHenry County have asked for the maximum 60-year sentence. Cunningham will be sentenced Friday at 1:30 p.m.

A.J.'s father, Andrew Freund, pleaded not guilty and waved his right to a jury trial, but a date for a bench trial has not been set.


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