A five-year-old boy who was beaten to death by his mum told doctors “maybe she didn’t mean to hurt me” just months before his death.
AJ Freund was left to rot in his family’s cockroach-infested basement in Illinois, the US, before being taken to a shallow straw-covered grave in April 2019.
On the night of his death, mum Joann Cunningham found soiled underwear in AJ’s wardrobe and made him have a 20-minute cold shower, court records allege.
She then beat him so he would “tell the truth”, it is claimed.
Four months before his death, AJ told an A&E doctor "maybe mommy didn't mean to hurt me" and "maybe someone hit me with a belt".
A video is also said to show AJ lying naked in a cot, with bandages around his wrists and hips and an ice pack over his eyes.
His chest, neck and eyes look to be badly bruised and mum appears to berate him for wetting the bed in the video, the records state.
An autopsy showed AJ had severe swelling of the brain, multiple bruises and abrasions on his head, multiple abrasions on his torso and all four extremities, as well as cuts matching the pattern of a detachable shower head.
Cunningham has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a sentencing date will be set next month.
The twisted mum, who was pregnant at the time of the crime and went on to give birth to a girl, could be locked up until she's 96.
AJ’s dad Andrew Freund Sr, 61, denies the charge.
When investigators visited the property after AJ’s death, his younger brother said he was forbidden from talking about him.
He said his mum told him AJ had “fallen down the stairs and has a lot of owies", according to court records.
The state’s Department of Child and Family Services had visited the family’s home at least 17 times after AJ’s birth amid allegations of abuse and neglect.
He was placed into a foster home in November 2013, a month after he was born with opiates in his system.
AJ was then returned to his parents' home in June 2015.
After his death, police found mouse droppings in AJ’s bedroom and screwed-in windows.
AJ's grandmother and foster family said in a statement: "While we had him in our lives, he had a happy, fun-loving life.
"This smart little boy loved having books read to him, doing puzzles, his Thomas the Train, playing with his fire trucks, bulldozers, cement mixer and Ninja Turtles.
"He was very curious and always wanted to learn about everything."