A North Dakota man was acquitted Friday of helping to kill a pregnant neighbor by tightening a rope around the woman's neck after his girlfriend cut the baby from her womb.
William Hoehn, 33, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the August 2017 death of 22-year-old Savanna Greywind of Fargo. He would have faced life in prison if convicted of the charge.
Hoehn's former partner, Brooke Crews, admitted earlier this year to cutting Greywind's baby from her body and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hoehn admitted to helping cover up the crime, but denied knowing anything about Crews' plan to kill Greywind and take her baby. He was earlier ordered to serve 20 years in prison for the cover-up, but the jurors in the conspiracy trial were not informed of that sentence.
The trial turned on dramatic testimony from Crews , who told the court she concocted a phony pregnancy because she was afraid of losing Hoehn, and that when he figured out she was lying, he told her she needed "to produce a baby." Crews said she believed this was "an ultimatum."
Hoehn testified that he had believed Crews when she told him she was pregnant and that he had been elated when he returned home and heard a baby crying.
Crews said she never "explicitly" told Hoehn what she planned to do, and that he appeared surprised when he arrived home to find a newborn and a bleeding Greywind in their bathroom. But she said after discovering the bloody scene he fetched a rope and twisted it around Greywind's neck to make sure she was dead.
She said Hoehn told her: "If she wasn't dead before, she is now."
A coroner was unable to determine if the cause of death was strangulation or blood loss.
Judge Tom Olson said Crews' testimony could be evidence that Hoehn had agreed to participate in the crime.
Asked whether he had an agreement with Crews to kill Greywind and take her baby, Hoehn told the court: "Absolutely not. No, no, no."
Crews and another of Hoehn's girlfriends testified that Hoehn put ropes around their necks during sex and fantasized about strangling people. A fellow jail inmate testified that he told Hoehn about his ex-girlfriend's abortion and Hoehn said he "just would have cut the baby out."
Hoehn's attorney, Daniel Borgen, countered with an inmate from a western North Dakota women's prison who testified that Crews told her she strangled Greywind and cut out the baby in a matter of minutes. Crews denied that claim, as well as assertions that Greywind and Hoehn were having an affair and that she killed Greywind in a fit of jealousy.
Greywind's body was found several days after she was killed, shrouded in plastic and dumped in the Red River.
Advocates say violence against Native American women is often overlooked. The Greywind case prompted North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to introduce Savanna's Act , which aims to improve tribal access to federal crime information databases and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and slain Native American women. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.