FARGO, N.D. – A North Dakota woman who earlier admitted killing a pregnant neighbor to get her baby did it by cutting the baby from the mother's womb as she faded in and out of consciousness, prosecutors said Friday.
Brooke Crews, 38, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in a hearing that for the first time detailed the August death of Savanna Greywind, 22, of Fargo.
Ashton Matheny, the baby's father, said learning how his baby was born and his girlfriend died "tore me apart." Greywind's mother, Norberta Lafontaine-Greywind, fought back tears, but said she was satisfied with the sentence — the toughest Crews could have received.
Prosecutors said the two women argued, and Greywind was pushed and briefly knocked out before Crews began cutting her. Greywind eventually bled to death, they said.
East Central District Judge Frank Racek cited the predatory and cruel nature of the crime in handing down the maximum sentence.
Crews, wearing orange prison clothing and cuffed at the wrists, cried as she read a statement of apology. She said she wished she could take the family's pain.
"There is no excuse. There is no rationalization. There is nothing," she said. Later, she showed no emotion as the judge passed sentence.
Crews' boyfriend, William Hoehn, faces a May trial in the case. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had cited his pending trial in withholding public details of Greywind's death earlier.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of life in prison with no parole. Defense attorney Steven Mottinger had asked for less, pointing out Crews admitted guilt without any promise of leniency.
"Acceptance of responsibility is important," Mottinger said in court. "It has to mean something."
Greywind was eight months pregnant when she disappeared in August, sparking extensive searches. Kayakers found her body wrapped in plastic in a river. The baby was found alive in the apartment Crews shared with Hoehn.
Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind, one of four family members to give statements during sentencing, said that what Crews did was "beyond evil," and said she was suffering horrific nightmares. Her husband, Joe Greywind, said the family is trying to heal, "but we find it nearly impossible."
Fargo Police Chief Dave Todd earlier called Greywind's death a "cruel and vicious act of depravity."
Crews initially claimed that Greywind gave up her newborn daughter, but she later admitted taking advantage of the woman to get the child, according to court documents.
Hoehn told police he came home on Aug. 19 to find Crews cleaning up blood in their bathroom. Hoehn said Crews presented him with an infant girl and said: "This is our baby. This is our family." Hoehn told police he took garbage bags containing bloody shoes and his bloody towels and disposed them away from the apartment complex.
A bill in Congress aimed at protecting Native American women and girls from violence, abduction and human trafficking is named for Greywind. Savanna's Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp would improve tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans.
It also would require an annual report that would include statistics on missing and murdered Native American women.
"You would never wish this suffering on anybody, on anybody's family, on anybody's sister or daughter or mother," said Gloria Allred, attorney for the Greywind family. "But the only good that will come out of it ... is more attention to change on this issue for other Native American women in the future."