Emotions run high in Grand Rapids beheading trial

GRAND RAPIDS -- Kayleene Danielle Greniger spent most of Monday sitting on the witness stand in an Itasca County courtroom. It was the same courtroom that she was in six months ago, when she admitted that she used a machete to behead 20-year-old ...

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GRAND RAPIDS - Kayleene Danielle Greniger spent most of Monday sitting on the witness stand in an Itasca County courtroom.

It was the same courtroom that she was in six months ago, when she admitted that she used a machete to behead 20-year-old David Alexander Haiman of Hibbing after an alleged sexual assault.

The story she told Monday was largely the same - that her boyfriend, Joseph Christen Thoresen, planned the killing and that the two fatally assaulted Haiman with an array of weapons along a rural forest road in June 2016.

But this time, there was a jury - and a defense attorney eager to pounce on every word.


Kayleene Greniger

"What she's saying doesn't make any sense at all," Thoresen's defense attorney, Bill Ward, told jurors earlier in the day during opening statements.

Greniger's emotional and heated testimony - arguing with Thoresen's attorneys and calling the defendant a "monster" at one point - provided an explosive start to the trial for the 36-year-old Thoresen, who faces four counts of murder and a potential life sentence without parole if convicted on the most serious charge.

Under questioning by Itasca County chief prosecutor Todd Webb, Greniger, 23, portrayed Thoresen as the initial aggressor in the assault and eventual killing.

She cried as she testified that she had been upset with both men after she said they forced her to participate in sexual acts.

"How did that make you feel?" Webb asked.

"Low," Greniger responded. "Dirty. Inhuman. Like a tool. Like a piece of property."

She testified that Thoresen tied up Haiman in the bedroom of the couple's Grand Rapids apartment, repeatedly punching him and leaving him on the ground for several hours. All three of them later left in Haiman's car, with Thoresen driving, to get methamphetamine, and "things seemed like they were OK, like we were done," Greniger said.


But during a stop at a friend's house, she testified, Thoresen took her aside with a message.

"We're going to kill him," he allegedly told her.

David Haiman

Greniger told the jury that Thoresen eventually drove out to a rural road in the Ball Club area, telling Haiman that the car was having issues and asking him to look under the hood. She said she was rolling a cigarette when she heard a "crack" that turned out to be Thoresen striking Haiman over the head with a baseball bat.

She testified that Haiman dropped to the ground and was again hit with the bat before both of them started stabbing the victim. Greniger admitted using the machete to decapitate him.

"What was the defendant doing at this time?" Webb asked.

"Telling me to swing harder," the witness responded.


Her testimony, however, came under intense scrutiny from defense attorney Ward on cross-examination. Greniger spent much of the afternoon sparring with the attorney - and, at times, simply refusing to answer questions.

Judge Lois Lang, who earlier instructed jurors that because Greniger is considered an "accomplice" her testimony must be corroborated by other evidence in order to be considered, had to order Greniger on several occasions to answer Ward's questions.

Ward, who is the chief public defender for the entire state of Minnesota, contended to jurors earlier that Greniger was the sole assailant.

Ward attacked Webb's allegations that the couple together carried out the assault.

"It was Kayleene Greniger, not 'they,'" Ward said. "It was Kayleene Greniger who took the machete and whacked and whacked and whacked until she decapitated his head. She is conniving, calculated and a killer. (Thoresen) saw what she did. In no way did he kill David Haiman."

Ward argued that Greniger only blamed Thoresen in order to minimize her legal responsibility, and eventually to cut a deal with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty in February to intentional second-degree murder and is facing about 27 to 30 years in prison.

As she testified, Ward meticulously went through a series of interviews she had given to investigators. He said she frequently changed stories, initially claiming Thoresen was entirely responsible but by the time of her plea hearing admitting to the stabbing and beheading.

Greniger, with increasing hostility, denied any recollection of most of her early statements. She stated that she was "not in the right state of mind" and attributed the memory loss to the effects of shock.


"You don't understand the kind of monster he is!" she shouted at the defense attorney in response to one question.

At another point, when Ward accused her of changing her story again, she harshly responded: "You're implying I was the only one, which I was not. I was far from the only one stabbing him."

The trial is expected to continue through the end of the week. A jury of eight men and five women, including one alternate, were impaneled last week.

Jurors are expected to hear forensic evidence, which Ward said would disprove Greniger's account.

Webb, however, told jurors that incriminating statements made by Thoresen in jailhouse phone calls and conversations also would come into play.

"I beat him with a baseball bat, carried him into the woods and cut off his head," he allegedly told a cellmate at the Itasca County Jail. "I can't believe Greniger took a deal. All she did was sit there and cry the whole time."

The jury will consider four levels of murder charges against Thoresen, each alleging different levels of culpability and sentencing guidelines of decreasing severity.

He is charged with first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder while committing kidnapping, intentional second-degree murder and unintentional second-degree murder while committing second-degree assault.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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