BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday, Aug. 22, that throws out the life sentence of a Fargo man who was convicted for his role in the kidnapping of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s baby.
William Hoehn, 34, was sentenced in October to life in prison with the chance of parole after pleading guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to commit kidnapping and a misdemeanor charge of lying to police in connection with the death of LaFontaine-Greywind in August 2017.
A jury found Hoehn not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in LaFontaine-Greywind’s death. The 22-year-old was pregnant when she was killed and her baby was cut from her womb. The baby, Haisley Jo, survived the ordeal.
Hoehn’s former girlfriend, Brooke Crews, was sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
At Hoehn’s October sentencing hearing, Cass County District Judge Tom Olson granted the prosecution’s request to declare Hoehn a dangerous offender, a status that enhanced his maximum sentence from 20 years in prison to life in prison.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court, while affirming Hoehn’s conviction, determined that the dangerous offender designation was not appropriate in Hoehn's case and ordered that his life sentence be vacated and that he receive a new sentence without the dangerous offender status.
As of late Thursday, a new sentencing hearing had not been scheduled.
Attorney Gloria Allred, a spokeswoman for LaFontaine-Greywind's family, said the victim's mother, Norberta Greywind, was upset with the Supreme Court decision. "Norberta's main concern has been and continues to be Haisley Jo," Allred said in a statement Thursday.
"She (Norberta) feels that Haisley Jo's life has been in danger even before she was born and now she feels that with this decision, her granddaughter's life will be endangered even more," Allred said, adding that Norberta Greywind hopes Hoehn's new sentence will be the maximum possible.
Leah Viste, a prosecutor in the case, said the ruling was disappointing, but added that the Cass County State's Attorney's Office had known there was a chance the Supreme Court "would not see things our way."
She said prosecutors have a period of time in which to ask for reconsideration of the case, but that wasn't something they were planning at this point.
Prosecutors had asked that dangerous offender status be given to Hoehn based on his previous conviction in a case involving a child who suffered a serious head injury.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that to give Hoehn dangerous offender status — and thereby extend his maximum sentence from 20 years to life — required a finding that he was convicted of an offense that seriously endangered the life of another person and that he had previously been convicted of a similar offense.
The Supreme Court went on to say that the district court did not explain why it found Hoehn's kidnapping offense similar to his 2012 conviction for child abuse, noting: "In the child abuse offense, Hoehn injured his infant son by putting him down on a changing table hard enough to cause skull fractures.
"The conduct underlying the kidnapping charge," the court continued, "included hiding the baby in a book bag and aiding Crews in deceiving law enforcement and the baby's family. ... The underlying conduct of the two offenses is not similar."
Kiara Kraus-Parr, Hoehn's attorney for the appeal, said Thursday she was confident going into the appeal that the Supreme Court would rule in their favor on the question of dangerous offender status.
"The law was pretty clearly on our side on this one," Kraus-Parr said, asserting as the Supreme Court did that there weren't enough similarities between the kidnapping offense and Hoehn's previous conviction for child abuse.
In arguing that Hoehn's kidnapping conviction was similar to his child abuse conviction, prosecutors had maintained that depriving LaFontaine-Greywind's child of medical care after her birth was the equivalent of causing harm to a child.
Viste said Thursday it was clear the Supreme Court disagreed, because it took the position Hoehn "didn't actively cause any harm to the child in this particular case."
A mother-to-be disappears
Hoehn's charges stemmed from the disappearance of LaFontaine-Greywind in August 2017.
LaFontaine-Greywind was eight months pregnant on Aug. 19, 2017, when she was lured to the north Fargo apartment shared by Hoehn and Crews.
Crews, 40, testified that she lured the younger woman to her apartment by promising money if she would help her with a sewing project. She also testified Hoehn appeared surprised when he returned home and discovered she had cut LaFontaine-Greywind's baby from her body.
Crews testified Hoehn then got a rope, tightened it around LaFontaine-Greywind's neck and said if she wasn't dead before, she was now.
Hoehn admitted in court to helping cover up the crime, but he said he didn't know Crews had planned to kill LaFontaine-Greywind and take her baby.
Police found the baby in Crews and Hoehn's apartment on Aug. 24, 2017. LaFontaine-Greywind's body was found Aug. 27, 2017, by kayakers on the Red River.
Kraus-Parr said Thursday she had not had the opportunity to talk to Hoehn since the Supreme Court ruling was issued because he was being held in a federal prison and access was difficult. Hoehn was moved from the North Dakota State Penitentiary to a different prison earlier this year, but officials did not disclose where it was.
The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said at the time that the move was taken for “protective management purposes,” related to the nature of his crime against LaFontaine-Greywind.
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, described the Supreme Court ruling as extremely disappointing and "telling in how much work we need to do to have justice for all in our country."
Buffalo, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, helped in the search for Savanna. Though it's been two years, she recently said the memory is "still very fresh."
"Families deserve justice. Communities deserve to be safe," Buffalo said.