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Volatile testimony marks final day in Fargo murder conspiracy trial

Jennifer Robinson testifies testifies Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in District Court, Fargo, during William Hoehn’s trial for conspiracy to commit murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old whose baby was cut from her womb. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
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 Service2 / 2

FARGO — Day eight of William Hoehn's murder conspiracy trial in Cass County District Court 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 Thursday, Sept. 27, to challenge the credibility of Hoehn's alleged co-conspirator and former girlfriend Brooke Crews, who has pleaded guilty in the death of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and is now serving a life sentence. LaFontaine-Greywind was 22 years old and eight months pregnant when she disappeared after visiting the couple's north Fargo apartment the afternoon of 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 help with a sewing project, which she admitted was a lie intended to get 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 successful cesarean section as LaFontaine-Greywind went in and out of consciousness.

She said Hoehn came home from work, looked into the bathroom and uttered an expletive at what he saw.

Crews said Hoehn then asked if LaFontaine-Greywind was 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.

On Thursday, Robinson became enraged under questioning by prosecutor Ryan Younggren, who enumerated Robinson's criminal history and questioned her motivation for raising her claims regarding Crews.

"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."

At another point, Robinson told Younggren: "Brooke Crews does not scare me, sweetheart. She's a devil in disguise, a master manipulator."

Other compelling testimony Thursday came from Hoehn himself who took the stand to recount what he said he experienced when he came home from work that day in 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 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 executed a search warrant at the apartment and found LaFontaine-Greywind's newborn baby, 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 alleged his lies were made 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.

During the trial's closing arguments Thursday, Borgen focused on the timing of events on Aug. 19, 2017, stating that 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 around 2 p.m. or shortly after.

He said evidence also indicated Hoehn returned home sometime between 2:30 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. and that it was more likely than not that LaFontaine-Greywind was dead by the time he arrived at the apartment.

Borgen said 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.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that it was unlikely one person could have subdued LaFontaine-Greywind and cut her baby from her body.

They also pointed to evidence that Hoehn and Crews were preoccupied with the idea of having a baby and raising it together.

Prosecutor Leah Viste said actions Hoehns has 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."

Jurors began deliberations at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, and retired for the day at 4:30 p.m. They will resume Friday morning.

Dave Olson
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