FARGO – A courtroom full of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s loved ones heard a grisly tale of how the 22-year-old Fargo woman died after her infant daughter was cut from her womb by Brooke Lynn Crews, a neighbor who lured the pregnant woman to her death by asking for help.
Prosecutor Tanya Johnson Martinez related the horrific story, one Crews told authorities, before Cass County District Judge Frank Racek sentenced Crews Friday to life in prison without the chance of parole.
On an afternoon last August, 36-year-old Crews asked her downstairs neighbor, who was eight months pregnant, for help with a sewing project.
LaFontaine-Greywind agreed to help, but when she got to Crews’ apartment Crews provoked an argument by accusing LaFontaine-Greywind of mistreating cats.
The two struggled and Crews shoved LaFontaine-Greywind to the floor, where she hit her head and fell unconscious.
Then, using a utility knife or some sort of blade, Crews performed a C-section on LaFontaine-Greywind, delivering a baby girl and placing the child in a bathtub.
“She was taking her first breath as her mother was taking her last,” Johnson Martinez said, referring to LaFontaine-Greywind’s daughter, Haisley Jo, who survived the forced delivery.
LaFontaine-Greywind was alive during the crude C-section, and she would briefly awaken before quickly falling back into unconsciousness.
The mother remained alive after the delivery, but because she was not given medical care she later died from blood loss, according to the prosecution.
Five-month-old Haisley Jo was at Friday’s sentencing and spent much of the hearing sitting on the lap of her father, Ashton Matheny. Matheny sat weeping with his head bowed as he listened to the proceedings.
Crews spent most of the hearing sitting silently facing the judge. She heard LaFontaine-Greywind’s mother and sister tell the court how much their family has suffered.
Crews spoke briefly before she was sentenced, telling Racek: “I’m just really, really, really sorry. “I wish I could take their pain,” she said. “I wish I hadn't done this. There is no excuse. There is no rationalization. There is nothing. I know it doesn’t help, but I am sorry.”
Crews had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges, including conspiracy to commit murder. On that charge, prosecutors asked for and received the maximum punishment of life without the possibility of parole. On the second charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, Racek sentenced Crews to the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Crews was also sentenced to 163 days in jail for a third charge of providing false information to law enforcement.
Crews’ attorney, Steven Mottinger, asked for life in prison with the possibility of parole, stating during the hearing and afterward that in his 38 years as a defense attorney he has come to believe all people are capable of change.
“Acceptance of responsibility is the first step toward change,” Mottinger said, adding that he believes Crews is an intelligent person who would have a lot to offer if given a chance.
Mottinger said he doesn’t know whether Crews will be called to testify during the May trial of her boyfriend, William Henry Hoehn, who along with Crews lived upstairs from LaFontaine-Greywind.
Hoehn, 32, has also been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and providing false information to police. He has pleaded not guilty to all three charges. A phone message left for Hoehn’s attorney seeking comment on Crews’ sentencing was not returned Friday.
LaFontaine-Greywind’s family reported her missing shortly after she went to Crews’ apartment.
Her body was found eight days later in the Red River, the victim of what a medical examiner called “homicidal violence.” Her baby was found healthy in the possession of Crews.
On Friday, Johnson Martinez told Judge Racek that LaFontaine-Greywind had a tattoo on her foot that read: “Too beautiful for Earth.” Johnson Martinez said the tattoo was used to identify her body after it was pulled from the river, “sliced from hip to hip, with no baby inside.”
In her words to the court, Crews said the person she needs to apologize to the most, LaFontaine-Greywind’s daughter, was too young to understand what was going on.
“I am guilty,” Crews said. “I deserve every year that I get.”