Two former Illinois Department of Child and Family employees learned their fate during a Friday bench trial, with one being found guilty on two felony counts, and the other being acquitted in the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund.
Presiding Lake County Circuit Court Judge George D. Strickland issued the rulings, following a 90-minute summation, and nearly four hours of closing arguments by prosecution and defense attorneys.
Carlos Acosta, 57, a DCFS caseworker and a former McHenry County Board member, was found guilty on two Class 3 felony counts of endangering the life of a child and the health of a minor. He faces a sentence of two to five years in prison, and up to $25,000 in fines.
Strickland maintained there was no follow-up or proper investigations “out if common sense” by Acosta, despite numerous indicators of drug use, physical and mental abuse, and evidence from other sources, along with a family history that was “chaotic.”
His supervisor, Andrew Polovin, 51, was acquitted as Strickland could not determine to what extent he was aware.
“It’s inexplicable … I have no idea why you signed off on this. I don’t know what you were doing, not supervising, no critical thinking, and did nothing else. Sometimes, you are only as good as investigator on the ground. Acosta made omissions that were obvious. You completely abdicated your responsibility … I don’t know what you knew and when.”
During the closing arguments, defense attorneys continually asserted that their clients had no way of knowing the case would end in death. Strickland stopped Matthew McQuade, representing Polvin, mid-sentence, saying, “I don’t want to hear that again. There is a difference between knowingly and willfully endangering a child, and … death.”
State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally’s office offered a timeline and reports attesting to the dilapidated conditions of the residence, testimony from hospital staff and physicians, a responding police officer, and Acosta’s own reports correlated with eyewitness testimony. Strickland defined that Acosta never conducted proper interviews with AJ, and allowed him to stay with the family, despite “numerous red flags.”
AJ Freund was beaten by his mother, JoAnn Cunningham, for soiling himself on Apr. 14, 2019. He was forced to stand in a cold shower, put to bed, wet and naked, expiring that evening. His father, Andrew Freund, stored him in a barrel at their home at 94 Dole Avenue, and three days later, buried him in a shallow grave by a Woodstock service road.
At their separate trials in December of that year, Cunningham, 40, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and Freund, 64, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for his role.
Strickland was conscripted from Lake County, as McHenry County judges had recused themselves from hearing the case.
“I can assure you that countless hours of the facts on this case were studied, the arguments by counsel were considered … there are things you can’t unsee, although it did not affect my decision,” he said. “Watching (video of) that child suffer at the hands of this sadistic woman is something I will never forget.
“He (AJ) was failed by the adults in his life, tortured in life, never got due process in his life, and I hold both of you responsible for this,” said Strickland, in issuing his determination.
Post-trial motions are to be filed within 30 days, with a hearing date to be set later in Lake County.