RECAP: Volatile testimony heats up murder conspiracy trial; case now in jury's hands
FARGO — Jurors began deliberations at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, in William Hoehn's murder conspiracy trial in Cass County District Court.
At 4:30 p.m., they retired for the day and will resume deliberations Friday morning, Sept. 28.
Thursday, the eighth day of Hoehn's trial, saw fireworks early on in the form of Jennifer Robinson, an inmate at the Dakota Women's Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in New England, N.D.
Robinson was called to the stand by defense attorney Daniel Borgen to challenge the credibility of Hoehn's alleged co-conspirator and ex-girlfriend Brooke Crews, who's pleaded guilty in the death of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. The 22-year-old victim was eight months pregnant when she vanished after visiting Crews and Hoehn's north Fargo apartment the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.
Her body was found eight days later in the Red River, empty of the baby she had been carrying.
The baby was found safe and healthy on Aug. 24, 2017, after police executed a search warrant at the couple's apartment and arrested Crews and Hoehn.
Robinson testified she befriended Crews when they were both in the correctional facility in New England, and she said Crews initially told her she had saved the baby's life.
She said Crews later told her that she strangled LaFontaine-Greywind and dragged her into a bathroom where she removed LaFontaine-Greywind's baby in under three minutes in order to ensure the baby did not suffer complications.
Crews testified on Tuesday, Sept. 25, that on that Saturday in 2017 she went to LaFontaine-Greywind's apartment and asked her to come upstairs to Apt. 5 to help with a sewing project, which she admitted was a lie intended to lure the young woman into her home.
Crews testified she started an argument with LaFontaine-Greywind as a way to bolster her own courage and during the scuffle LaFontaine-Greywind hit her head on the bathroom sink and passed out.
Crews said she then performed a cesarean section as LaFontaine-Greywind went in and out of consciousness.
She said Hoehn came home from work, looked in the bathroom and uttered an expletive.
Crews said Hoehn then asked if LaFontaine-Greywind was still alive, to which she answered, "I don't know. Please help me."
She said Hoehn left briefly and returned wearing only underwear and carrying a noose.
Crews said Hoehn put the noose around LaFontaine-Greywind's neck and pulled it tight, stating if she wasn't dead before, "she is now."
Hoehn then took charge, Crews said, adding that he directed her to help him clean the bathroom and hide the body in a bathroom closet.
She said they later hid the body in a hollowed-out dresser, which they snuck out of the apartment building the morning of Aug. 21, 2017.
Crews' claim that LaFontaine-Greywind struck her head on a sink seemed at odds with testimony from a medical examiner who said an autopsy revealed no internal or external injuries to her head.
'I shivered in my skin'
While testifying Thursday, Robinson became enraged when she was questioned by prosecutor Ryan Younggren, who enumerated Robinson's criminal history and questioned her motivation for raising her claims regarding Crews and comments she may have made.
"I wanted justice for that little girl and her dead mother!" Robinson shouted, adding that when Crews divulged her crime to her, "I shivered in my skin."
In response to other questions from Younggren, Robinson stated: "Brooke Crews does not scare me, sweetheart. She's a devil in disguise, a master manipulator."
Other testimony Thursday came from Hoehn himself, who took the stand to recount what he said he experienced when he came home from work on Aug. 19, 2017.
Hoehn said the apartment was quiet and at first he wasn't sure Crews was home.
"I imagine I said, 'Honey, I'm home,'" Hoehn testified, adding that moments later Crews walked out of the bathroom.
He said there was panic in her voice as she said his name: "Will ... Will, I need you."
Hoehn said he heard the sound of a baby coming from the bathroom, which he said filled him with elation, believing Crews had had a successful home birth.
His happiness vanished, he said, when he looked in the bathroom and saw a woman lying on the floor surrounded by a pool of watery blood, her skin pale and her lips blue, as if she had just eaten candy.
Hoehn said he turned back to Crews and uttered an expletive before asking who the woman was.
"She said, 'This is Savanna,''' Hoehn testified, adding that when he asked where she had come from, Crews replied, "I went and got her."
Hoehn said Crews couldn't explain the situation, stating she didn't know what came over her.
Hoehn testified that from early January 2017 until that afternoon in August 2017, he had been under the impression Crews was pregnant.
After making the horrifying discovery, he said, he asked Crews if she was even pregnant, to which he said Crews touched her stomach and replied, "I think so."
Hoehn's testimony Thursday was in contrast to statements he gave police in two recorded interviews following LaFontaine-Greywind's disappearance on Aug. 19, 2017.
In one interview provided about three days after the disappearance, Hoehn said LaFontaine-Greywind was in the couple's apartment the day he came home from work, but he said as far as he knew she was alive and well when she left.
In an interview on Aug. 24, 2017, the day police found LaFontaine-Greywind's baby in the couple's apartment, Hoehn said that when he came home the previous Saturday, he found Crews in their blood-stained bathroom with a new baby.
He said she told him this was their new family and he shouldn't ask too many questions.
On Thursday, he maintained he had lied to police in order to protect Crews, but prosecutors maintained his aim was to protect himself.
The testimony Crews provided earlier this week contradicted earlier statements she made to police in which she said LaFontaine-Greywind had been to the apartment but was alive and well when she left.
Crews pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and lying to police, and she is serving a life sentence.
She said she was testifying in the hope of giving LaFontaine-Greywind's family what closure she could.
Hoehn has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and lying to police, but his attorney, Daniel Borgen, maintained Thursday that Hoehn never entered into an agreement with Crews to commit murder.
During closing arguments Thursday, Borgen focused on the timing of events on Aug. 19, 2017. He said that based on evidence LaFontaine-Greywind is believed to have entered Apt. 5 about 1:24 p.m.
He said it's likely she was attacked shortly thereafter and her baby had probably been removed from her body about 2 p.m., or shortly after.
He said evidence indicated Hoehn returned home sometime between 2:30 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. Borgen added that based on a medical examiner's opinion that LaFontaine-Greywind couldn't live much longer than 30 minutes with the wound she suffered, it was more likely than not the case that she was dead by the time Hoehn arrived at the apartment.
Borgen maintained his client could not have entered into an on-the-spot agreement to kill LaFontaine-Greywind if she was already dead when he got home.
Prosecutor Leah Viste stressed in her closing argument that it was unlikely one person acting alone could have subdued LaFontaine-Greywind and cut her baby from her body.
She also pointed to evidence that Hoehn and Crews were preoccupied with the idea of having a baby and raising it together.
Viste said actions Hoehn admitted to speak volumes about his state of mind during that period of time.
Viste said Hoehn walked in on the most gruesome scene imaginable "and he jumped right in there."
She told jurors that in a case rife with evidence that the main actors were prone to lying, "You will have to do some work to get to the truth."