FARGO – The mother of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind smiled and hugged family and supporters in the Cass County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 11, after one of two suspects in the killing of her 22-year-old daughter changed her pleas to guilty.
Although the mother, Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind, declined to comment after the hearing, she looked happy and relieved.
The suspect, 38-year-old Brooke Lynne Crews, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and providing false information to police. She’s tentatively scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
The maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit murder charge is life in prison without parole. The maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge is 20 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.
“From where I stand, she accepted responsibility today,” defense attorney Steven Mottinger said after Monday’s hearing. He said the guilty plea “goes a long way in terms of us being able to argue for something less than life without parole.”
Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind disappeared in August while eight months pregnant after going upstairs in her north Fargo apartment building to model a dress that Crews was sewing. Her body was found eight days later in the Red River.
Crews and her live-in boyfriend, William Henry Hoehn, were arrested in August. Police found Crews with a newborn child when she was arrested. The baby later proved to be the biological child of LaFontaine-Greywind and her boyfriend, Ashton Matheny.
Hoehn, 32, faces the same charges as Crews and has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin March 20 in Cass County District Court.
On Monday, Crews was led into the courtroom five minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin, wearing an orange jail sweatshirt, orange pants and orange plastic sandals. She was handcuffed and her legs bound by a chain. She sat on the edge of her seat throughout the hearing.
The courtroom was more crowded than it had been for previous hearings for Crews and Hoehn, though sheriff’s deputies prevented anyone other than court officials from sitting in the first two rows of benches, which were mostly empty. Deputies stood guard in the aisle facing the crowd throughout the hearing.
The victim’s parents, Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind and Joe Greywind, arrived later than they did for previous hearings. When they arrived with their children, the courtroom was largely full so they were forced to sit in the rear. Most of the crowd seemed to be composed of their family and supporters. Several wore red shirts in memory of the slain woman.
Judge Frank Racek began the hearing by asking Crews if she understood her rights, then he read the three charges against her. Regarding the first charge, conspiracy to commit murder, he asked, “How do you plea?”
“Guilty, Your Honor,” she said.
Crews responded the same way to the other two charges. She choked up and seemed to begin crying when she made the second guilty plea, to the kidnapping charge. At times, she had a pained expression on her face. She repeatedly bit her lip.
Prosecutor Leah Viste then described the factual basis for the plea. “The defendant,” she said, “lured Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was eight months pregnant, up to her apartment as part of a conspiracy to murder Savanna and steal her unborn baby.”
Viste added that “Savanna died as a result of homicidal violence that had been inflicted on her by the defendant and her co-defendant.” That represented the first time that prosecutors or police have stated publicly that Crews and Hoehn killed LaFontaine-Greywind themselves.
In describing the basis for the charge that the couple kidnapped LaFontaine-Greywind’s daughter, Viste said Crews “had conspired with William Hoehn to register the child’s birth as their own biological child and raise the child as their own.” Viste did not, however, provide any suggestion of how they obtained the baby, which remains one of the great mysteries of the case, at least to the public.
When asked by Judge Racek whether the facts described by Viste were true, Crews mouthed “yes,” though her response was inaudible.
The hearing was short, lasting just over five minutes. Prosecutor Viste declined to comment after the hearing. Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick would not provide any additional details about Crews’ case since Hoehn’s case must still be tried.
Despite announcements on social media that a peaceful demonstration would take place outside the courthouse prior to the hearing, there were no demonstrators present before or afterwards.