FARGO — Brooke Lynn Crews, one of two suspects charged in connection with the killing of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and the abduction of her baby, was arraigned in court on Thursday, Sept. 28, and her attorney entered not guilty pleas on her behalf.
Crews, 38, and her live-in boyfriend, William Henry Hoehn, 32, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and providing false information to police. They are each being held at Cass County Jail on $2 million bail.
Hoehn was set to appear in Cass County District Court on Oct. 4, but has waived his right to appear and entered not guilty pleas, so that court appearance has been cancelled.
At Crews' court hearing Thursday before Judge Frank Racek, she waived her right to a preliminary hearing. In such a hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate to the judge that there is probable cause to charge the defendant.
Crews was led into the courtroom shortly before the 1:30 p.m. start of her arraignment. She wore an orange jail shirt and pants, and orange slip-on sandals. She was bound at the wrist and ankles.
She looked straight ahead and to the left, where TV screens were mounted on the wall. She was unemotional, answering only "yes" and "no" when asked questions by the judge.
Judge Racek read the charges to her and then summarized the maximum penalty for each charge. He asked whether she understood the charges and penalties. She replied "yes." He asked whether she understood what a preliminary hearing would be. She said "yes." He asked whether she waived her right to a preliminary hearing. She said, "yes."
When the judge asked Crews how she pleaded to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, her attorney, Steven Mottinger, said Crews elected not to enter a plea to any of the charges, but he asked the court to enter not guilty pleas on all counts.
A dozen friends and relatives of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind crowded two rows of the gallery in the courtroom. LaFontaine-Greywinds' mother, Norberta, was there, along with Savanna's sister, Kayla. Her father, Joe Greywind, was not in attendance, nor was Ashton Matheny, her boyfriend and father of her daughter, Haisley Jo.
Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind was visibly shaken after Crews was brought into the courtroom, crying and wiping her eyes with a tissue. A woman sitting to her left comforted her, putting her arm around her, and rubbing her back continually. After regaining her composure, Norberta looked at her feet.
Mottinger asked Judge Racek for a delay in the dispositional conference, the next scheduled court proceeding for Crews. It was originally scheduled for Nov. 29. Judge Racek agreed, rescheduling the conference for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 3.
Mottinger said after the hearing that he requested the delay because "We have not yet received the balance of the state's discovery material." However, Assistant State's Attorney Leah Jo Viste, the lead prosecutor on the case, said that all materials her office has received so far have been provided to the defense.
Both Mottinger and Viste acknowledged that the U.S. attorney in Fargo is still reviewing the case, which suggests that it could still be prosecuted federally. The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on Thursday. The case would only be eligible for the death penalty if it's prosecuted by the U.S. government.
Mottinger said that if the case goes to trial, he would likely seek a change of venue to move the trial out of Cass County. A judge can order a change of venue if it would be difficult to obtain an impartial jury in the county where the alleged crime occurred.
Asked after the arraignment if it was possible any other charges would be made against the suspects, Viste said, "Anything is possible." Questioned about whether anyone other than the two suspects could have been involved, she said, "I don't foresee any charges forthcoming at this point in time."
Crews was arrested on Aug. 24 in the apartment she shared with Hoehn, upstairs from the apartment where the LaFontaine-Greywind family lived. Police said she was found in possession of a newborn baby girl, alive and healthy, that DNA tests later proved belonged to LaFontaine-Greywind and her boyfriend, Matheny. Hoehn was arrested later the same day at his place of employment.
LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe who worked as a certified nursing assistant in Fargo, disappeared on Aug. 19 while eight months pregnant after going upstairs in her apartment building to help Crews with a sewing project. Her body was found eight days later in the Red River. Police said her death was caused by "homicidal violence."
According to court documents, Crews told police that she had taken advantage of LaFontaine-Greywind to obtain her child. Crews said she taught LaFontaine-Greywind on the Saturday she disappeared how to self-induce childbirth. Crews claimed LaFontaine-Greywind then left her apartment, but returned at 3:30 a.m. two days later and gave Crews an infant child.
Hoehn's story about what happened was very different. He told police that he came home from work on that Saturday and found Crews cleaning up blood in their bathroom. He said Crews presented him with an infant, saying "This is our baby. This is our family," according to court documents.
Hoehn told police that he removed garbage bags containing bloody towels and his own bloody shoes from the apartment, and disposed of them in a dumpster at an unknown apartment building in West Fargo, court documents stated.
Defense attorney Mottinger said after Thursday's arraignment that he has a good relationship with Crews. "We get along well," he said. "I don't anticipate any problems."