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Winfield denied new hearing, case headed to trial

ALPENA–Former Alpena Public Schools teacher Heather Winfield will proceed to trial on sex assault charges, despite claims by her attorney that the case should not have been bound over to Circuit Court.

Winfield, accused of criminal sexual conduct against a former student, is currently scheduled to appear for trial at the end of September. The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Defense attorney Matt Wojda appeared in court in July to argue that the evidence presented at Winfield’s preliminary examination in District Court wasn’t adequate to provide probable cause that the defendant had committed a crime. Claiming several problems with that hearing, including the District Court judge’s own statements of doubt about testimony from Winfield’s accuser, Wojda asked for some of the informaton presented to be tossed or for Winfield to get a new preliminary exam.

In a nine-page opinion released Tuesday, 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack rejected that request.

Winfield’s lawyer also claimed that some of the charges against the former teacher are invalid because the alleged victim never said his body was penetrated.

Mack called that argument a “startling proposition.”

“The statute is not so narrowly drafted as to focus criminal responsibility solely on an individual who performed penetration,” Mack opinion concluded, citing incidents in which a woman was convicted of criminal sexual assault despite being the penetrated individual.

Tuesday’s opinion stated that the testimony of law enforcement officials and the presentation of receipts, electronic messages, and hotel records as evidence was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of offering a reasonable belief that the defendant had sexually assaulted her former student.

A final point in the defense’s motion to overturn bindover to Circuit Court was the issue of witness credibility. District Court Judge Thomas LaCross had himself called into question the reliability of the alleged victim’s testimony, Wojda said.

Mack’s opinion notes that “a District Court may weigh whether a witness is credible, but may not usurp the role of the jury.”

LaCross, on record, expressed disbelief about certain aspects of the alleged victim’s testimony, but reasonably concluded the testimony, coupled with other corroborating evidence, was enough to advance the case.

Winfield is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 3 for a status conference. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 27 with jury selection.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.