A North Dakota man who admitted helping cover up the killing of a pregnant neighbor has been acquitted of conspiring with his former girlfriend to murder the younger woman last year and then kidnap her unborn baby — who was cut out of the victim’s womb — according to multiple news reports.
The jury in the eight-day trial of 33-year-old William Hoehn, of Fargo, handed down its not-guilty verdict on Friday in Cass County Court after deliberating for about a day, local TV station KVLY reports.
Hoehn would have faced life in prison if convicted of the charge, according to station KSTP.
On Sept. 4, he pleaded guilty to two lesser charges in the case: kidnapping and providing false information to authorities in their investigation court records show.
He will be sentenced for those charges at a later date and faces up to 20 years in prison, station WDAY reports.
Prosecutor Leah Jo Viste did not immediately return calls for comment on the acquittal.
Speaking to local station WDAY after the verdict was announced, Viste said that while they did everything they could to provide jurors with enough evidence to begin deliberations, ultimately it was not their decision.
“When you choose a career in the law, you recognize that the whole ball doesn’t reside with you and that part of the process of the jury procedure in the United States is that peers get to make that determination,” she said.
“I think that you can feel disappointed, but at the same time accept the process if you feel that you’ve gotten everything in [to the jurors] in the case. And in this particular instance everything was available for the jury to review,” said Viste, an assistant state’s attorney.
According to the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Viste noted that conspiracy can be a legally tricky concept to explain and that Hoehn’s former girlfriend could have seemed unbelievable.
Hoehn’s attorney, who has not returned previous requests for comment, could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE.
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Hoehn was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the Aug. 19, 2017, slaying of the 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind, an expectant mother who lived with her family in his apartment building.
LaFontaine-Greywind was eight months pregnant when she was killed in the upstairs apartment that Hoehn shared with Brooke Crews, 39, according to previous prosecutor statements and Crews’ plea.
Crews admitted to luring the young woman to the third floor and cutting her unborn baby from her body last year. Crews is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in December to conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping in LaFontaine-Greywind’s death.
As Crews has described it, the younger woman was the victim of a desperate plan to obtain a child at any cost, after Crews had maintained to others that she was pregnant when she was not.
On Thursday, Hoehn took the stand saying that while he helped cover up the killing after he came home and found Crews on the bathroom floor with LaFontaine-Greywind by her side — cut open and bleeding — he did not conspire with his then-girlfriend in the murder, WDAY reports.
When Hoehn’s attorney, Daniel Borgen, asked him if he and Crews had an agreement to kill LaFontaine-Greywind and take her baby, Hoehn replied from on the stand, “Absolutely not. No, no, no,” according to WDAY.
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Crews testified that she didn’t “explicitly” tell Hoehn that she planned to take LaFontaine-Greywind’s baby from her, the Associated Press reports. But when Hoehn asked if LaFontaine-Greywind was dead, Crews testified that she told him, “I don’t know. Please help me,” according to WDAY.
Crews said on the stand that Hoehn proceeded to put a rope around LaFontaine-Greywind’s neck to ensure she was dead, according to the AP.
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Hoehn denied this in his own testimony and Borgen told the jury that she was lying.
Hoehn’s defense has argued instead that LaFontaine-Greywind was probably already dead when he got back to his apartment, the Forum reports.
A doctor in the case has previously described the “remarkable” survival of LaFontaine-Greywind’s baby girl, who endured her mother’s agonizing amateur cesarean section in fairly good health.
Now 1 year old, Haisley Jo Matheny lives with her father, Ashton Matheny, LaFontaine-Greywind’s longtime boyfriend, who took the stand earlier this week.
Before her death, LaFontaine-Greywind had dreams of being a registered nurse and was soon going to move into her own apartment with Matheny near her family.
“We miss Savanna very, very much,” her mom, Norberta, told PEOPLE last year. “We show Haisley Jo pictures of her and tell her how much she wanted her and loved her.”
Said Ashton earlier this month: “I think about Savanna every day. I hope justice is served.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family with child-raising expenses.