Judge says jury will decide Fargo baby-snatching murder conspiracy case
FARGO — Judge Thomas Olson said Wednesday, Sept. 26, that a jury — not he — will decide the fate of William Hoehn, who's accused of conspiring to kill Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind in August 2017.
Olson said after prosecutors rested their case Wednesday afternoon in Cass County District Court that a jury will be the finder of facts in the case, and he said jurors could reasonably conclude that Hoehn conspired to kill LaFontaine-Greywind based on testimony from his ex-girlfriend and alleged co-conspirator, Brooke Crews.
Crews told jurors on Tuesday, Sept. 25, that Hoehn came home to their north Fargo apartment on Aug. 19, 2017, to find Crews on the floor of their bathroom after she cut a baby out of the abdomen of LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old neighbor she had lured to the apartment.
Crews said Hoehn uttered some expletives and then asked her: "Is she dead?"
Crews said she replied: "I don't know. Please help me."
Crews testified Hoehn then put a noose around the young woman's neck and pulled it tight, stating that if she wasn't dead before, "she is now."
Judge Olson said Wednesday — with jurors out of the courtroom — that the jury could decide based on Crews' testimony that an agreement was made to commit murder, and he denied a defense motion asking that the case be dismissed based on a claim the prosecution had not proven a conspiracy existed.
Olson also ruled, however, that defense attorney Daniel Borgen could call to the stand Jennifer Robinson, a North Dakota prison inmate who told authorities Crews confided to her about five months ago that she strangled LaFontaine-Greywind herself before cutting her baby out in less than three minutes.
When Borgen confronted Crews with Robinson's claims on Tuesday, Crews said they were not true.
Borgen argued Wednesday that Robinson's presence in court was necessary to impeach Crews' credibility. A move by the prosecution to bar such testimony failed.
Crews has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and lying to police. She's serving a life sentence without the chance of parole.
Hoehn has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and lying to police, but he has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
His attorney maintained Wednesday that evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient for a finding of guilt on that charge.
Skilled at lying?
Jurors heard Wednesday from a Fargo police detective who joined the investigation into LaFontaine-Greywind's disappearance on Aug. 20, 2017, the day after family members lost contact with her.
Detective Philip Swan said he and another officer conducted a consensual search that day of Hoehn and Crews' apartment that was a follow-up to two previous searches that had yielded no clues.
He said LaFontaine-Greywind's family members said they knew of an access panel in the wall of a bathroom closet that might lead to a space where a body could be hidden.
Swan said the closet and plumbing access area were searched as were the kitchen cupboards of the apartment, but nothing was found.
Crews testified Tuesday that after LaFontaine-Greywind was killed she and Hoehn first put her body in the bathroom closet and then moved it to a hollowed-out dresser, which they removed from the apartment building early on the morning of Aug. 21, 2017.
Swan said at the time of the third search of the apartment on Aug. 20, 2017, police were pursuing many avenues in what at that point was a missing person case. He said Crews and Hoehn weren't necessarily suspects, due to their relaxed demeanor and the fact nothing suspicious was found in the apartment.
Asked by Borgen if Crews appeared skilled at lying, Swan said, "I would imagine you'd have to be."
Asked by prosecutor Ryan Younggren if he would say the same about Hoehn, Swan answered, "I would."
Crews and Hoehn were arrested on Aug. 24, 2017, after police learned Hoehn had purchased diapers at a Walmart and police then obtained a warrant to search the couple's apartment.
During the search, police found LaFontaine-Greywind's healthy daughter on a bed in the apartment. The girl is now in the care of her father, Ashton Matheny, and relatives.
Matheny, 22, testified Wednesday that he and LaFontaine-Greywind began dating when they were in high school in Devils Lake, N.D.
He said they had been seeing each other for three months before they had their first kiss, and he said at the time of LaFontaine-Greywind's death he had been planning to propose to her.
Matheny described his girlfriend as someone who put other people's needs ahead of her own.
"She wanted to help everyone. That's the kind of person she was," he said.
The trial is to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 27. Closing arguments are expected sometime Thursday.
Borgen has declined to specify how many witnesses the defense may call, but discussion in the courtroom Wednesday suggested Robinson, the prison inmate Crews reportedly spoke to, may be called to testify.