FARGO - William Hoehn showed little to no reaction Friday, Sept. 28, when a 12-person jury declared him not guilty of a charge of conspiring to murder Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind in August 2017.
The decision came roughly two weeks after the start of Hoehn’s trial in Cass County District Court, which saw testimony from about two dozen witnesses.
The six women and six men of the jury began deliberations at 3 p.m. Thursday and returned their verdict about 4 p.m. Friday.
Hoehn, 33, along with his ex-girlfriend Brooke Crews, 39, were charged with conspiring to murder the pregnant 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind and kidnap her baby.
Crews pleaded guilty in December to her charges and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Before the trial, Hoehn pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to commit kidnapping and a misdemeanor charge of lying to police in connection with LaFontaine-Greywind’s death. Hoehn will be sentenced on those charges at a later date. He remains in custody at the Cass County Jail.
The maximum prison sentence on the conspiring to kidnap count is 20 years. The maximum sentence on the lying to police charge is 360 days.
Following Friday's verdict, prosecutor Leah Viste said she will be recommending a sentence toward the high end of the sentencing range.
She expressed disappointment with the verdict, saying prosecutors still believed evidence in the case supported a finding of guilty and that the conspiracy charge Hoehn faced was the appropriate charge.
Viste said conspiracy can be a difficult concept to get across to jurors, and she acknowledged that Crews, the prosecution’s prime witness and Hoehn’s co-defendant, “obviously” had credibility issues.
Defense attorney Daniel Borgen declined to comment, saying he wouldn't talk about the case until after Hoehn is sentenced on the kidnapping and lying to police charges.
Borgen insisted during the trial that a crucial element of conspiracy to commit murder, that one or more people agreed ahead of time to kill someone, did not apply to this case.
Court officials said members of LaFontaine-Greywind's family also were not ready to talk about the verdict Friday afternoon.
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LaFontaine-Greywind vanished on Aug. 19, 2017, after being invited by Crews to her apartment to help with a nonexistent sewing project.
When interviewed by police, Hoehn and Crews maintained in the days following that they didn’t know LaFontaine-Greywind's whereabouts.
By Aug. 24, 2017, police had learned Hoehn was talking with co-workers about a newborn baby that Crews’ had and that Hoehn bought baby diapers at a Walmart.
That day, police executed a search warrant at Crews and Hoehn’s apartment and found LaFontaine-Greywind’s healthy baby, resulting in their arrests.
LaFontaine-Greywind’s body was found in the Red River on Aug. 27, 2017.
Crews, who testified for the prosecution, said there was never an explicit plan to kill LaFontaine-Greywind and cut her baby from her womb.
She said she and Hoehn longed to have a child, and she said she felt pressured by Hoehn to produce a baby any way she could.
Crews testified that she lured LaFontaine-Greywind to the couple’s apartment and a fight ensued, during which LaFontaine-Greywind fell and hit her head on the bathroom sink, knocking her out.
That information seemed to conflict with medical examiner findings that indicated LaFontaine-Greywind suffered no injuries to her head.Exact cause of death unknown
Crews testified that after LaFontaine-Greywind hit her head she performed a crude cesarean section, removing the baby as her mother went in and out of consciousness.
Crews said Hoehn came home shortly after to find LaFontaine-Greywind on the bathroom floor.
She said he uttered an expletive and asked if she was dead.
When Crews responded “I don’t know. Please help me,” Crews said Hoehn left the bathroom and returned in his underwear, carrying a rope.
Crews said Hoehn tied the rope around LaFontaine-Greywind’s neck and said “If she wasn’t dead before, she is now.”
The defense proposed that LaFontaine-Greywind was attacked shortly after arriving at the apartment about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2017, and that she was likely dead by the time Hoehn came home about 2:30 p.m.
Testimony from medical examiners suggested LaFontaine-Greywind died from either strangulation or blood loss, but the precise cause couldn’t be determined.
Hoehn took the stand in his own defense and denied ever putting a rope around LaFontaine-Greywind’s neck.
Forum reporter Wendy Reuer contributed to this report.