Jury to get Itasca County beheading case Friday

GRAND RAPIDS -- Jeff Greniger sought immunity from prosecution in order to come to court and testify at the murder trial of his sister's former boyfriend.

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Joseph Christen Thoresen

GRAND RAPIDS - Jeff Greniger sought immunity from prosecution in order to come to court and testify at the murder trial of his sister's former boyfriend.

The 22-year-old didn't receive the protection he sought. But he still took the witness stand Thursday.

An emotional Greniger recalled to jurors how he saw his sister, Kayleene, and her boyfriend, Joseph Christen Thoresen, tie up 20-year-old David Haiman in the bedroom of their Grand Rapids apartment. He also testified about returning later and finding the bloody aftermath of an assault on the Hibbing man.

After Greniger admitted to a series of drug-related crimes from the witness stand, Itasca County chief prosecutor Todd Webb asked him why he agreed to testify without immunity.

"The kid deserves justice," he testified. "Whatever he did, he didn't deserve to die. He didn't deserve to go through what he did."


David Haiman

Greniger was the penultimate witness on the case's fourth and final day of testimony. The prosecution rested its case Thursday - as did the defense, which did not call any witnesses.

Thoresen, 36, is charged with four counts of murder in Haiman's death and faces a potential mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted on the most serious. The jury will hear closing arguments and begin deliberating Friday morning.

Greniger testified that he was staying with his sister and Thoresen when Haiman came over to their apartment on June 20, 2016. He said Thoresen began "harassing" Haiman about something, and that it appeared he was trying to get some information out of him.

He testified that Thoresen ordered Haiman down to his knees and told Kayleene Greniger to tie him up.

"I didn't want any part of it," Jeff Greniger said. "I left."

When he returned hours later, Greniger said the couple showed him Haiman, who was still tied up, bleeding and with a swollen eye. The witness said he "bolted" after seeing that.


"I freaked," he said. "I couldn't talk. I didn't know what I'd just walked into."

Greniger's testimony was largely consistent with that of his sister, who took the stand Monday in accordance with a plea agreement that will have her serving 27 to 30 years in prison.

However, defense attorney Steve Bergeson attacked Jeff Greniger's testimony as uncredible, citing his admitted drug use at the time, his lack of initial cooperation with law enforcement and his attempt to seek immunity.

Greniger was not the only witness facing potential legal ramifications from his testimony. The day started with drama when another witness refused to testify and was held in contempt of court.

Webb attempted to call Daniel Benz, who allegedly told authorities that Thoresen confessed to the murder while they were cellmates in the Itasca County Jail. But the inmate and his attorney said he wished to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, speculating that he could be forced to provide testimony that is self-incriminating.

When Webb asked Judge Lois Lang to compel his testimony, calling the protest an "affront to the court," the judge attempted to hold a hearing on the issue outside the presence of the jury. Read the oath and asked if he swore to tell the truth, Benz replied "no."

"I'm refusing to do anything," he told Lang, who in turn ordered the already incarcerated witness jailed for contempt.

Jurors did hear portions of six recorded jailhouse phone calls Thoresen made with family and friends. The calls showed Thoresen providing different accounts of Haiman's death.


He initially claimed to have no memory, but weeks later claimed that it was a "third party" who beheaded Haiman. The calls showed that he then began referring to it as "accidental" and "self defense."

By a month after his arrest, Thoresen was heard in one of the calls saying: "I lost it, that's what it really amounts to. I finally f---ing popped."

Prosecutors allege that Thoresen lured Haiman out to a remote trail in the Ball Club area, west of Grand Rapids, telling Kayleene Greniger along the way that they were going to kill him.

She testified that Thoresen was the one who assaulted Haiman in the apartment and drove them to Ball Club, where she said he struck the victim over the head with a baseball bat and stabbed him with a knife. She admitted that she was the one who used a machete to decapitate the victim in retaliation for an alleged sexual assault perpetrated by the two men.

But defense attorney Bill Ward told jurors in opening statements Monday that evidence would show Kayleene Greniger to be the only aggressor, calling her "conniving, calculated and a killer." He claimed she only entered a guilty plea and agreed to testify against Thoresen in order to minimize her own legal responsibility.

Thoresen 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. Each charge carries different sentencing guidelines, if convicted.

The jury consists of eight men and five women, including one alternate.

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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