For Ashton Matheny, the next two weeks will be filled with emotion.
Matheny was the longtime boyfriend of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, who was eight months pregnant with their first child in August 2017 when she was killed in what prosecutors say was a plot to steal her baby.
Starting Tuesday, jury selection will begin in the trial of William Hoehn, 33, who is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Savanna’s death.
“I think about Savanna every day,” Matheny, 22, tells PEOPLE ahead of the trial. “I hope justice is served.”
He has also been busy raising his daughter, Haisley Jo, who survived the attack on her mother when she was taken from her womb.
“I have to be strong for Haisley,” says Matheny.
The spunky, happy one-year-old is learning to walk, shakes her head ‘no,’ and “has a lot of personality,” Matheny says. “She’s quiet a lot but when she’s comfortable around people she talks a lot and will let out a happy scream when she’s excited.”
Savanna was killed after her neighbor, Brooke Crews, lured the pregnant woman to the Fargo apartment she shared with Hoehn, her boyfriend, offering Savanna $20 to model a dress she claimed she was sewing, court records show.
In December 2017, Crews pleaded guilty to murdering Savanna. In February 2018, Crews was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Crews admitted that she fought with Savanna before she cut open her womb and took her unborn baby while she was still alive, prosecutors said, local station WDAZ reported.
Savanna’s body was found eight days later, wrapped in plastic in the nearby Red River.
Authorities found the baby alive and with Crews.
Hoehn said he had no idea that Crews was planning to kill Savanna for her baby, court records show. He maintains he came home from work to find Crews cleaning up blood in their bathroom. He said she showed him the infant, saying, “This is our baby, this is our family,” Hoehn told police, according to court records – a contention Hoehn said he believed because he was under the impression she was pregnant, reports The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
On Sept. 4, Hoehn pleaded guilty to two lesser charges: kidnapping and providing false information to authorities in their investigation of Savanna’s death, online court records show.
He pleaded not guilty to conspiring to murder Savanna, setting up his Tuesday trial.
Child Says ‘Mama’ When She Sees Savanna’s Photo
Matheny has been called as a witness and says he believes he will testify in the trial’s second week.
He says he’s feeling anxious but is trying to trust in the legal system.
“I’m leaving everything in the hands of the law,” he says. “There’s not much I can do. We have to just sit back and pray that things stay on our side.”
Matheny cares for Haisley Jo most of the time, though she spends time with her grandparents, Savanna’s parents, Joe and Norberta Greywind.
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On Monday, he dropped Haisley Jo off with them. “They said it was easier if she was there with them to comfort them,” he says.
Haisley Jo turned one in August — and is on her way to walking all by herself, Matheny says.
“She’s started to get braver when she walks,” he says. “The most steps she took was 14 consecutive stops recently before she fell over.”
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She has been talking since she was six- or seven-months-old: “Her first words were ‘Dada,’” he says.
The little girl also says “Mama” because she is often shown a photo of Savanna, says Matheny.
When Matheny isn’t taking care of Haisley Jo, he’s going to school at a local college for business administration. He says he is working hard because he wants to be a good role model for his daughter.
“I don’t want her to see me down and weak,” he says. “I just keep moving forward — for me and for her.”