A Fargo man, who received a life sentence on kidnapping charges after his girlfriend sliced an unborn baby from the womb of a neighbor, has had his sentence overturned by a North Dakota Supreme Court judge.
William Hoehn, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and giving false statements to police in 2017, has successfully appealed his lifetime sentence, claiming that prosecutors were wrong in designating him a dangerous special offender, which automatically carries life in prison.
In 2017, Hoehn’s girlfriend, Brooke Crews, murdered 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind in an attempt to fabricate a hoax pregnancy, a desperate attempt prosecutors said, to prevent the North Dakota man from leaving her.
Crews, 40, supposedly cut Greywind’s stomach open and extracted the woman’s unborn child. When Hoehn stumbled upon the bloody scene at home, he tied a rope around Greywind’s neck to make sure the woman was dead, according to the Associated Press. An autopsy couldn’t confirm if Greywind died from blood loss or strangulation. He also later hid the newborn and lied to investigators. Greywind’s unborn baby survived the attack but the dead mother’s body later turned up in a river. Crews told the court that she never directly told her boyfriend about her murder plot.
The 34-year-old pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping in 2018, but was cleared on murder charges related to Greywind’s death. His charges carried a maximum 20-year sentence. But, because of a prior child abuse conviction in 2012, Cass County prosecutors attempted to enhance Hoehn’s sentence using a statute that would designate Hoehn as a “dangerous special offender,” which carries life behind bars. That designation, Hoehne's defense argued, was misapplied, and is what ultimately led to the vacation of his sentence.
North Dakota Supreme Court judge Jerod Tufte stated that Cass County prosecutors misled Hoehne ahead of his guilty plea and disagreed with the criteria used to enforce the dangerous special offender statute. Tufte stated that the 2012 child abuse case bore no similarities to the conspiracy kidnapping charges, which constituted an incorrect appilcation of the statute.
“We conclude that a comparison of the statutory elements does not support a finding that a child abuse offense is similar to a kidnapping offense,” wrote Tufte, in his opinion obtained by Oxygen.com.
Hoehn’s criminal defense attorney Kiara Kraus-Parr was pleased with Tufte’s opinion.
“I think it was the right decision,” Kraus-Parr told Oxygen.com.
Kraus-Parr said the prosecution was greedy to use the dangerous special offender statute to secure a lifetime sentence.
“I think they overreached,” she said. “I understand they were trying to get the maximum sentence they could possibly get because this is a profile case but the law is the law and as soon as we start looking at an end and working backwards then it takes legitimacy from the entire sentence.”
However, the Supreme Court’s opinion hasn’t become official, she noted. It will remain open for two weeks, which gives prosecutors the opportunity to request a re-hearing. That, though, appears doubtful, according to Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste.
“I don’t think that’s likely at this point,” Viste told Oxygen.com.
“Reading it, I think the [Supreme Court] opinion is sound,” she added. “I understand where the justices are coming from with it.”
Viste said the case was challenging, given there was no prior legal precedent in North Dakota for how to apply the dangerous special offender statute. She refuted the claim that her office overstepped in upgrading Hoehne’s charges.
“I disagree with it — I don’t believe that's what we did,” Viste explained.
“We did have a good argument for making that recommendation and I think the circumstances surrounding that entirety of that crime was the appropriate recommendation. Looking back in hindsight I’d probably do it all the same, quite frankly.”
The Cass County prosecutor said that Greywind’s family is also “very disappointed” with the ruling. Viste suspects Hoehn’s sentence will likely be reduced to a maximum of 20 years to reflect his original charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Hoehn, who is currently in federal custody, is expected to re-sentenced within the month. His girlfriend, Crews, was sentenced in 2018 to life in prison without parole for Greywind’s slaying.
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