GRAND RAPIDS — A 23-year-old woman who admitted to beheading a Hibbing man after an alleged sexual assault received forgiveness from the victim’s family but a maximum sentence from the judge.
Kayleene Danielle Greniger, 23, was sentenced Monday to more than 30 years in prison for her role in the June 2016 slaying of 20-year-old David Alexander Haiman.
Greniger twice admitted in court that she used a machete to decapitate Haiman after her boyfriend, Joseph Christen Thoresen, lured the victim to the rural Ball Club area of Itasca County.
Weeping and struggling to speak, Greniger repeatedly apologized but told 9th Judicial District Judge Lois Lang that she wasn’t seeking empathy or forgiveness.
“I deserve to suffer every day for the rest of my life for what happened,” Greniger said. “So many lives have been forever changed.”
But she received an unlikely advocate in Haiman’s aunt. While many of the victim’s family members were present in the courtroom, including his parents, none initially expressed a desire to address the court - until Amanda Anderson stood to make a last-minute request, which the judge granted.
Anderson read several lines of scripture and told Greniger that she had forgiven her. Moreso, she said she wanted to be part of Greniger’s life while she’s incarcerated.
“I may have lost a nephew, but He brought you into my heart,” Anderson said.
Before sitting down, she handed Greniger a letter which contained her address and phone number, promising to keep in touch.
“I’ve been in jail,” Anderson said. “I know that getting a letter feels like Christmas.”
Lang acknowledged the importance of Anderson’s forgiveness, but said she imposed the maximum guideline term of 367 months based on the “horrific” nature of the crime and Greniger’s active participation in the fatal assault.
Greniger pleaded guilty in February to intentional second-degree murder and agreed to participate in the prosecution of Thoresen. She was a key witness at his August trial, spending nearly a full day giving emotional testimony and sparring with her former boyfriend's defense attorneys. Thoresen, 36, was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder and given an automatic life sentence without parole.
Greniger testified that she was forced by Thoresen and Haiman to participate in sexual acts. She called Thoresen a “monster,” saying he planned the killing and was the initial aggressor.
Greniger said in August that Thoresen eventually drove them to a rural forest road, telling Haiman that the car was having issues and asking him to look under the hood. She said she was rolling a cigarette when she heard a "crack" that turned out to be Thoresen striking Haiman over the head with a baseball bat.
She testified that Haiman dropped to the ground and was again hit with the bat before both of them started stabbing the victim. Greniger admitted using the machete to decapitate him, while Thoresen stood by encouraging her to “swing harder.”
Greniger was harshly criticized at Thoresen’s trial by his attorneys, one of whom called her “conniving, calculated and a killer.” But the jury took only about three hours to convict him on the state’s stiffest charge.
Itasca County chief prosecutor Todd Webb asked the judge Monday to impose the maximum sentence on Greniger, telling Lang he was concerned that she seemed to place blame more on Thoresen and Haiman than on herself.
“The defendant’s role was an active role,” Webb said. “It was premeditated. It was brutal.”
Defense attorney Chad Sterle argued for 332 months, the minimum term available under the plea agreement. He noted that Greniger helped law enforcement find Haiman’s body, took responsibility in pleading guilty and provided crucial testimony that put Thoresen behind bars for life.
“What’s important is how she’s conducted herself in court and taken responsibility for what she’s done,” Sterle told the court.
Greniger herself did not ask for a lighter sentence, but told the judge that she “found God,” was baptised in prison and is “working to be a better person.” She did not address the specifics of the crime, but said Haiman did not deserve his brutal death.
“He was a good person with a good heart,” she said of Haiman. “He was too young to have his life ended.”
Greniger must serve at least two-thirds of the sentence, or slightly more than 20 years, in prison before she is eligible for supervised release.
Thoresen has until late November to file an appeal of his conviction and life sentence. First-degree murder appeals in Minnesota go straight to the state Supreme Court.