FARGO — William Hoehn sat in a mostly empty courtroom on Monday, Oct. 7, as a judge detailed his new sentence for taking part in the kidnapping of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind's baby.
"The saddest thing for the court is that you will be out of prison before the child that lost its mother will graduate high school," said Cass County District Judge Tom Olson. "How wrong is that?"
Hoehn, 34, appeared in court for his resentencing hearing, and Olson ordered him to spend 20 years behind bars on one felony charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and one misdemeanor charge of giving false information to police.
Hoehn pleaded guilty to both charges in connection with the death of 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind, who was eight months pregnant when she was killed and her baby was cut from her womb in 2017.
LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter, Haisley Jo, survived the ordeal and now lives with her family.
Brooke Crews, Hoehn’s former girlfriend, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping stemming from LaFontaine-Greywind’s death. She is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hoehn pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and was acquitted by a jury after a trial in September 2018.
At his October 2018 sentencing hearing, Hoehn was designated as a “dangerous special offender” by Judge Olson at the request of the prosecution. Prosecutors asked for the status based on Hoehn’s 2012 conviction in a case that involved serious injury to a child. The designation enhanced Hoehn’s possible maximum sentence from 20 years to life.
Hoehn appealed the dangerous special offender status, and in August 2019 the North Dakota Supreme Court found that the status was not appropriate and ordered a resentencing for Hoehn without the designation.
During his trial, Hoehn made reference to how much he cared for Crews and that his feelings for her affected his actions.
Prosecutor Leah Viste said during Monday's hearing that she hoped that by the time Hoehn finishes serving his time, he will have realized none of his actions were done out of love.
"There was no love in a crime such as this, for anybody," Viste said.
Hoehn's attorney, Scott Brand, acknowledged the impact the case has had on Fargo, saying "the community will remain unsettled about what happened in this case." But he said the sentence has to respect the North Dakota Supreme Court's decision and requested Hoehn be sentenced to seven years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation, the same judgement Hoehn's trial attorney, Dan Borgen, requested.
Hoehn also spoke during the hearing and apologized several times to Savanna's family, many of whom chose to skip Monday's proceedings. Referring to Savanna's family, Hoehn said: "I think about them and pray for them every day."
Hoehn said he couldn't explain why the crime happened, but "Maybe she can," an apparent reference to Crews.
"With that said," Hoehn added, "the state is right — this is inexcusable."
Hoehn said he has tried to take responsibility for what he did, and he said he has been working at improving himself and making the world a better place by "trying to put good back in the world. I try to plant seeds every day."
Hoehn concluded by stating: "I'm sorry doesn't cut it, but I am."
Judge Olson said he did "not have to struggle much" in sentencing Hoehn the first time to life in prison with the possibility of parole. But since the state Supreme Court disagreed with that sentence he would have to change it, though he said he was still intent on sentencing Hoehn to the maximum possible, 20 years.
Olson stressed that Hoehn had helped to hide Haisley Jo for days while knowing what had happened to the girl's mother and how much her family and the community were worried about her.
"I know the scars will be deep and permanent," Olson said, referring to the pain suffered by Savanna's family.
The judge also quoted testimony from Hoehn's trial, during which it was said that after entering his apartment and finding Crews had cut Savanna's child from her womb, Hoehn had asked Crews: "Is she dead yet?"
To which Crews is said to have answered, "I don't know."
Judge Olson then repeated, several times, what Hoehn is reported to have said next after having tied a rope around the young woman's neck: "If she wasn't dead before, she is now."
At the hearing, the attorneys discussed Hoehn's eligibility for parole in terms of the "85% rule," a statute that if applied to a defendant's sentencing requires the defendant to serve 85% of the total sentence before they are eligible for parole.
The prosecution argued the rule is appropriate in Hoehn's case, and the defense countered by saying the rule does not apply to crimes involving "conspiracy."
Judge Olson said he believes the rule applies to Hoehn, but left it to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to make the final decision. Olson gave Hoehn credit for 775 days already spent in custody.