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Before sentencing, man reflects on pain he inflicted in murder, baby-snatching case

FARGO -- William Hoehn says his involvement in the murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind is not the same as the crime of his former girlfriend, Brooke Crews, who admitted to conspiring to kill the pregnant mother and cutting her baby from her wom...

William Hoehn testifies Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in District Court, Fargo, during his trial for conspiracy to commit murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old who’s baby was cut from her womb. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
William Hoehn testifies Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in District Court, Fargo, during his trial for conspiracy to commit murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO - William Hoehn says his involvement in the murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind is not the same as the crime of his former girlfriend, Brooke Crews, who admitted to conspiring to kill the pregnant mother and cutting her baby from her womb in August 2017.

“Brooke had a scheme that she wanted to raise a baby, but that was not my crime,” Hoehn said. “My crime was not reporting what happened by not turning her in. Never in my mind did I think we were going to run into the sunset together and raise this baby."

With his sentencing set for Monday, Oct. 29, Hoehn recently reflected on his case in a series of exclusive interviews inside the Cass County Jail.

Though a jury acquitted him last month on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder, Hoehn had earlier pleaded guilty to lying to police and conspiring to kidnap LaFontaine-Greywind's newborn daughter, Haisley Jo. He faces a maximum prison sentence of roughly 20 years.

“I’m sure there are people in the community that want to see me going away for the rest of my life,” Hoehn said. “Do I feel like I deserve 20? I don’t know. I don’t want 20 years. But what I want and what I deserve may not be the same thing.”

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If Hoehn, 33, spends the maximum time behind bars, he will be about 53 years old when he’s released. By that time, Haisley Jo will be grown up and old enough to understand what happened to her and her mother - a realization that brought Hoehn to tears.

“My heart goes out to the family. I can only imagine what they’ve gone through, what they’re going through, what they’re going to continue to go through forever,” he said. “I think about Savanna and her family every single day."

Hoehn said he understands that the Greywind family may feel that a 20-year sentence wouldn't be enough.

Hoehn said he has a 15-year-old daughter, so “It’s not hard for me to put myself in their situation. I can’t feel what they feel. But I can try to imagine.”

LaFontaine-Greywind and her family lived downstairs from Crews and Hoehn in a north Fargo apartment building. She was 22 years old and eight months pregnant when Crews lured her to the couple's apartment by asking for help with a nonexistent sewing project.

During Hoehn's trial, Crews told jurors LaFontaine-Greywind was knocked out before she used a box cutter to perform a crude cesarean section on the pregnant woman.

Crews testified that after the baby was removed, Hoehn arrived home from work. Crews and Hoehn offered conflicting testimony at trial on what happened next.

Crews testified that Hoehn asked her whether LaFontaine-Greywind was alive, and Crews said she responded: “I don’t know. Please help me.” Crews testified that Hoehn then got some rope, put it around LaFontaine-Greywind’s neck, pulled it tight and said that if she wasn’t dead before, “she is now.”

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However, Hoehn told jurors that he never put a rope around LaFontaine-Greywind's neck, and his defense attorney argued that she was likely dead by the time Hoehn came home. Medical examiners were unable to pinpoint her time of death.

Crews, 39, pleaded guilty in the case in December 2017, and she's serving a life sentence without the chance of parole.

Hiding Savanna's body After LaFontaine-Greywind's family reported her missing, police searched Hoehn and Crews' apartment three times with their permission, but found no trace of the missing woman. One likely factor: a speedy and thorough cleanup that Hoehn admits he didn’t hesitate to help with.

Hoehn said after returning from work Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, and finding Crews with a body in the apartment's bathroom, he stripped to his underwear and began cleaning the bloody scene.

That Saturday he said his apartment was “eerily silent” when he entered and was met by Crews, who opened the bathroom door.

He said he immediately heard a baby, and testified during his trial that at first he was elated, thinking that Crews had their baby while he was at work.

Crews testified that she told Hoehn in early 2017 that she was pregnant, emailing him a positive pregnancy test from a previous pregnancy to support her claim. “That started the fake pregnancy that initiated this whole thing," Hoehn said.

He said when Crews opened the bathroom door further, he could see a body on the floor with a rope around its neck. He recalled saying something to the effect of: “Oh my God? Who the f––– is that?”

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Hoehn said he could also see a newborn baby in a large mixing bowl, wrapped in towels. Crews was already cleaning up the scene by the time he got home, he said.

He said Crews told him they needed to get the body out of the apartment, but he told her that they couldn’t because it was the middle of the day.

Police searched Hoehn’s apartment twice that Saturday, the first time within hours of the killing and the second time later that night.

Hoehn said that during those two searches, the body was wrapped in black garbage bags inside the bathroom closet. If detectives had opened the closet, Hoehn said they would’ve found LaFontaine-Greywind.

It wasn’t until early the next day, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, that her body was placed inside a dresser before the third and final consensual police search, according to Hoehn, who said he gutted the dresser to make room for the body and then nailed the drawer faces back on to conceal what was inside.

Hoehn said he and Crews brought Haisley Jo with them when they dumped the body in the Red River late that Sunday or early that Monday morning. The dresser broke on impact with the water, he said.

After obtaining a search warrant, police found the baby in the couple's apartment on Aug. 24, 2017. Kayakers discovered LaFontaine-Greywind's body in the river on Aug. 27, 2017.

Hiding Haisley Jo Hoehn said that during the police searches of the apartment, Haisley Jo was hidden inside a suitcase that had been made into a makeshift crib. Crews put an electric blanket in the bottom of the suitcase that was placed on the floor on the side of the bed, according to Hoehn.

Police would have needed to go around the bed to see the suitcase, he added.

Because police were looking for an adult woman and not a newborn baby, that might be one reason officers did not notice the baby, Hoehn said.

Asked how it was that Haisley Jo didn’t cry or make a sound during the searches, Hoehn answered simply: “She was just a good baby.”

Hoehn said he was worried about the baby’s health. But he added that Crews was planning to do a home birth from the start, and he said she closely monitored the baby’s weight and progress.

He said there was no plan to take the baby anywhere to receive real medical care.

In fact, he said they had no plans at all regarding how they would proceed with their lives.

"I knew this wouldn't end well," Hoehn said. "I should’ve called police. Nobody was getting away with this."

It was Crews' manipulation, he said, that led him to help cover up the crime scene and hide the baby.

“I can't explain why I did what I did," he said. "I love her (Crews), and she convinced me I needed to help her."

“I’m sorry I didn’t end this as soon as I could have," Hoehn said. "If I would've reported, Savanna would still be gone, but I could’ve shut the book on this right away. I’m sorry for the Greywind family, leaving them hanging."

Hoehn said not only have nightmares awoken him from sleep, but the horror of his decisions haunt him at all hours of the day.

“I want to apologize to the entire community, because I know there have been countless people affected by this - not just all over this town, but all over this country, all over this world,” he said.

Kim Hyatt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead covering community issues and other topics. She previously worked for the Owatonna People's Press where she received the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award in 2016. Later that year, she joined The Forum as a night reporter and is now part of the investigative team. She's a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth.
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