FARGO, N.D. – The grass has yet to grow thick and green on Savanna Greywind’s grave.
Her headstone, tucked in a quiet corner of a cemetery here, is adorned with flowers, crosses, mementos and a photo of the infant daughter she was so anxious to deliver, but never got a chance to meet.
The 22-year-old was eight months pregnant when she was brutally attacked and killed one year ago by a neighbor who cut her open and stole the baby, who survived. For days, hundreds searched for the missing mother before kayakers found her body wrapped in plastic and duct tape in the Red River north of town.
Nearly six months later, Brooke Crews, who lived upstairs from Greywind and her parents in a Fargo apartment complex, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to murder Greywind and is serving life in prison. Now, Crews’ boyfriend and accomplice, 33-year-old William Hoehn, heads to trial this week on a similar charge in a gruesome case that may well disclose many of the disturbing details of the assault and its aftermath.
As Hoehn’s trial nears, many here retain a keen interest in a crime that shocked a city and region.
“I know more than I’d like to know,” said Elizabeth Johnson of Fargo. “It’s pretty gruesome.”
Fargo resident Vanessa Hernandez said she’s been following the heartbreaking developments since the beginning.
“I think,” Hernandez said of Greywind, “she’ll always weigh heavy on the community.”
Trouble with jury?
While the trial is scheduled to start Tuesday, it could be days before attorneys deliver opening statements.
The case’s high profile could make it difficult to select an unbiased jury in Fargo, a point Hoehn’s attorney, Daniel Borgen, argued in a legal memo requesting that the trial be moved west to Bismarck, nearly 200 miles away.
In April, Cass County District Judge Thomas Olson sent questionnaires to 96 people in the jury pool, asking whether they could be fair and impartial if selected.
One-third of the prospective jurors — 32 people — answered that they would have trouble presuming Hoehn innocent, Borgen said in his memo. Several revealed that they had actually taken part in the search for Greywind when she went missing, he added.
“The victim was a beautiful young expecting mother, and her death shocked the community,” Borgen wrote. “In this case, the publicity is widespread, recent and damaging to the defendant.”
Ultimately, Olson denied the motion to move the trial. But the judge granted a request that Hoehn be allowed to appear in court in street clothing, rather than jail garb, and without handcuffs or shackles.
Hoehn declined a request for an interview at the Cass County Jail, where he’s being held without bail.
Prosecutors Leah Viste and Ryan Younggren, as well as Borgen, also have declined to comment on the case.
A long witness list
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have filed a list of potential witnesses that includes more than two dozen law enforcement officers and investigators, as well as forensic specialists from the FBI and an autopsy expert from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Greywind’s parents, Joe and Norberta Greywind, may also be called to testify, as well as Ashton Matheny, the father of Savanna’s baby, Haisley Jo.
Also on the witness list: Crews, who admitted in court earlier this year to knocking out Greywind and cutting the baby from her womb as she drifted in and out of consciousness in the apartment Crews and Hoehn shared not far from the North Dakota State University campus.
Although Crews confessed to the killing and the theft of the baby at her sentencing hearing in February, few other details emerged. It’s expected that Hoehn’s trial may reveal more.
Hoehn has admitted to helping dispose of bloody towels and clothing after the killing, and has pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping and providing false information to authorities. But in previous court proceedings, he has insisted that he knew nothing about Greywind’s death beforehand.
According to court documents, Hoehn said he came home on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, and found Crews cleaning up blood in their bathroom.
Then, he told investigators, she showed him a newborn girl she planned to claim as their own.
“This is our baby, this is our family,” she told him, the documents showed.
Hoehn and Crews had lived together for about three years, according to court records of a 2016 domestic violence case against him. In that case, Hoehn was charged with pushing Crews into a bathtub during an argument. The incident took place in the same apartment where Greywind was killed.
Hoehn was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault in that case and sentenced to 30 days in jail, records show.
In 2012, Hoehn was convicted in Grand Forks, N.D., of felony child abuse. He received a sentence of one year in jail and served 130 days. In that case, Hoehn was found responsible for multiple skull fractures that his infant son sustained while in Hoehn’s care.
Greywind, meanwhile, disappeared that afternoon in August 2017 shortly after Crews had asked her to come upstairs and help with a sewing project. Her parents became alarmed when she didn’t return promptly. After repeated urging from the family, police began investigating.
Crews allowed police into her apartment three times for questioning, but they saw no evidence of a crime. After getting reports that Hoehn had told co-workers about a newborn, investigators obtained a search warrant for the couple’s apartment.
They smashed in the door and found Crews with a baby. DNA testing confirmed that the girl was the child of Greywind and Matheny.