It took eight days to find her missing daughter and five more months to learn how she died.
But finally, inside a Fargo courtroom packed with weeping family members Friday afternoon, Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind heard the horrifying story of her daughter’s final minutes.
“Today is the first day I learned of how my daughter was murdered and how my granddaughter was taken from her,” LaFontaine-Greywind said, fighting back tears after learning the gruesome details of her daughter’s death.
Minutes earlier, Cass County District Judge Frank Racek had delivered the harshest possible sentence, life in prison, to Brooke Lynn Crews, 38, for her role in the death of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. The expectant mother was just 22 years old and eight months pregnant when she was killed.
In a stunning revelation, prosecutors said Crews admitted that she knocked out LaFontaine-Greywind and cut the baby from her womb as the mother drifted in and out of consciousness.
Crews, wearing orange prison clothing and cuffed at the wrists, cried as she read a statement of apology.
“There is no excuse. There is no rationalization. There is nothing,” she said.
Crews showed no emotion when Racek passed his sentence. Family members of the victim said it’s what they were hoping for.
“I am satisfied with the sentence,” Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind said. “We will continue to keep my daughter’s legacy alive.”
Crews pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap and giving false information to police in Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s death. She did not have a plea deal with prosecutors but admitted the crimes hoping to receive a lighter sentence that would possibly keep her from spending the rest of her life in prison.
Crews’ boyfriend, William Hoehn, also faces charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to kidnap. He awaits a trial scheduled for May.
After Friday’s hearing, Ashton Matheny, LaFontaine-Greywind’s boyfriend and the father of their baby daughter, Haisley Jo, thanked the judge “for not showing any leniency to Brooke.” He said the couple’s seven-year anniversary would have been next month.
“Every day I’m reminded of her more and more,” he said, looking at his daughter, who was wrapped in a yellow blanket and sleeping in the arms of a family member. “Every day she grows, she looks more and more like her mother. She’s just so beautiful, I always stare at her, even when she sleeps.
“I hope no one else in this community, in this nation, in this world has to endure the pain that I do,” Matheny added. “They took the love of my life away from me. They took my future away from me.”
Haisley Jo and several other family members wore red ribbons Friday to honor the memories of missing and murdered indigenous women.
LaFontaine-Greywind disappeared Aug. 19 after visiting the apartment Crews shared with Hoehn. She lived with her parents in the same six-unit building as Crews and Hoehn in north Fargo, not far from North Dakota State University.
Her parents said she went upstairs to help Crews with a sewing project, and they became alarmed when she didn’t return promptly.
After repeated urging from the family, police began investigating the woman’s whereabouts.
Crews voluntarily allowed police into her apartment three times for questioning, but they saw no evidence of a crime. But after getting reports that Hoehn had told co-workers about a newborn, investigators obtained a search warrant for the couple’s apartment.
They smashed in the door and found Crews with a baby. DNA testing confirmed that the girl was the child of LaFontaine-Greywind and Matheny.
Police said Hoehn admitted removing garbage bags containing bloody towels and his own bloody shoes from the apartment and disposing of them in an apartment building trash bin at an unknown location in West Fargo.
LaFontaine-Greywind’s body was found by kayakers on Aug. 27 in the Red River about 6 miles north of Fargo, wrapped in plastic and duct tape. Fargo Police Chief David Todd called her death “a cruel and vicious act of depravity.”
A bill in Congress aimed at protecting American Indian women and girls from violence, abduction and human trafficking is named for LaFontaine-Greywind. Savanna’s Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., would improve tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Indians.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. John Reinan • 612-673-7402