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Heather Winfield seeks leniency while out on bond

ALPENA — Lawyers for former Alpena Public Schools teacher Heather Winfield have asked a judge to allow greater leniency in her bond conditions.

Defense attorney Dan White requested that Winfield, who in January was charged with sexually abusing a former student, be allowed to drop off and pick up her children at their schools, attend non-school-sponsored activities of her children, attend extended-family functions at which children would be present, if accompanied by another responsible adult, and come into contact with one of her children’s friends.

The defense shared with the court a letter from a former school official, written before Winfield’s bond conditions were set, as proof that the school would allow Winfield to be on campus to pick up her children from the visitor’s lot.

The defense cited Winfield’s behavior while under investigation and presumption of a defendant’s innocence, which “carries over into the way in which she is allowed to conduct her life up until and through the trial,” as reasons the conditions of her bond should be loosened.

Assistant Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski, in stating a case for not allowing the defense’s motion, argued that the presumption of innocence for Winfield is no stronger than for any other defendants and asked the judge to “simply treat her like any other defendant.”

The provision that Winfield be permitted to attend large family events with a responsible adult present is, Myszynski said, inappropriate, given that the charges against her allege that Winfield and the alleged victim had sexual contact in the presence of other adults.

The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Winfield is currently permitted to attend a weekly family gathering at which a niece and nephew may be present.

Judge Michael Mack of the 26th Circuit Court indicated that he would review the motion and issue an opinion about bond enhancement within the next three weeks.

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Two Alpena-area men, angry that a local woman was selling drugs laced with fentanyl, burst through her door and took the drugs through intimidation, according to separate guilty pleas entered in court Monday.

Jacob Acre, 18, and Nehemiah Furgerson, 21, admitted to the court that, on June 18, they went to the Miller street apartment of an acquaintance, kicked open her door, and approached her with a baseball bat. They went to the apartment because they were upset about drugs they said the woman had sold to the men’s friend, causing him to overdose, both defendants said.

The woman gave the men methamphetamines and heroin, which they then flushed down the toilet, Furgerson said. The men said they suspected the drugs contained fentanyl, a substance known to cause overdoses and death in drug users.

Both men pleaded guilty to a reduced count of second-degree home invasion. Fergurson, through defense attorney Dennis Grenkowicz, requested Holmes Youthful Trainee Act status, which would allow his record to be expunged upon successful completion of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 4.

The victim, Abigail Schlegel, is currently incarcerated under separate drug charges.

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Aaron Bissonette, an Alpena woman who allowed a downstate drug dealer to use her apartment to sell illegal narcotics to local residents and helped him find buyers, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with the sentence to be suspended during a two-year probation period.

Bissonette pleaded guilty in June to drug charges after agreeing to testify in the jury trial of Milton Baytops, who was in July convicted by a jury of delivering illegal narcotics in Alpena.

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A 73-year-old Alpena man was sentenced Monday to a minimum of 13 months in prison for viewing child pornography.

Gary LaCross was arrested in March 2018 following an investigation by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office after he viewed photos of underage children on an online data-sharing network that, unbeknownst to him, forwarded the images he viewed to other people.

Initially charged with 15 counts of related to possession and distribution of child sexually abusive material and using a computer to commit a crime, LaCross pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse commercial activity in an arrangement with the Attorney General’s Office.

Before sentencing Monday, defense attorney Dan White reminded the court of his client’s 37 years’ military service and attested that LaCross has been in intensive sex offender-related counseling since his arrest. The statute applied to LaCross’s case is intended to bring justice to those soliciting and photographing children, White contended, and LaCross is “not that guy.”

White did concede that looking at sexually abusive photos of children, while it may not be of the same nature as actively distributing photos, “fueled the enterprise that so much concerns the state of Michigan.”

While LaCross neither made nor intentionally distributed the photos in his possession, Mack said, the people who did so “wouldn’t have produced and disseminated them unless there were people like Mr. LaCross to consume them.”

LaCross was sentenced to 13 months to 20 years in state prison.

He is scheduled for back surgery on Thursday, which, Mack said, will be performed at the prison.

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