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Trials resume in Presque Isle County

Trials for 2 accused of sex assault scheduled

News Photo by Julie Riddle Defendant Kenneth Kierzek appears before the 53rd Circuit Court Monday for the scheduling of his upcoming jury trial.

ROGERS CITY — Jury duty notices will soon be sent to local residents as trials resume after a several-month hiatus.

Officials with Presque Isle County’s 53rd Circuit Court on Monday scheduled two trials, both for men accused of sexual assaults.

A trial for Michael Rigot, who has been in jail since January 2019 facing multiple sexual assault charges against two minors, is set to begin Aug. 11.

The trial’s location has not yet been determined, but the county Clerk’s Office is assisting Judge Aaron Gauthier in finding an appropriate site, Gauthier said.

In-person jury trials — suspended by the Michigan Supreme Court in April as a safety precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — are, as of Friday, permitted to resume in counties where COVID-19 cases have remained stable.

The Rigot trial — expected to take four days and to require a large pool of potential jurors — won’t be possible at the Circuit Court courtroom in Rogers City because of social distancing restrictions.

Several sites in the county are being considered as alternate locations. Schools are not on the list, Gauthier said, because the site chosen will need to be usable for some time.

Trials will require a facility with a large room for jury selection and the trial, another room for socially distant jury deliberations, and additional space for private meetings between attorneys and their clients.

During the Spanish flu epidemic a century ago, trials were held outdoors, Gauthier said, noting that, at that time, fewer protections for the defendant were in place and trials were generally much quicker affairs.

The courthouse could still be used for trials if the jury were to listen and deliberate in one courtroom while other participants stayed in the other, with the proceedings livestreamed from one room to the other, Presque Isle County Ken Radzibon suggested.

That could be an option, Gauthier said, with the downside that it would still be at least partially virtual, to which some defendants may — and could, by right — object.

A suggestion by defense attorney Devin Pommerenke to use the empty Grambau Education Center in Rogers City was vetoed after it was learned that the center doesn’t have air conditioning — a high priority for an August trial, Gauthier said.

Another trial was scheduled in September for Kenneth Kierzek, accused of first- and second-degree sexual assault of two children, who has been in jail one year as of Wednesday.

While defense attorney Alan Curtis told the court his client isn’t interested in being a test subject if videoconferencing is used to conduct the trial, he agreed to an in-person trial at an unconventional venue.

A third anticipated trial, for Rogers City resident Thomas Pettit — arraigned in Circuit Court Monday, entering a not guilty plea on 15 charges of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct — is not yet scheduled.

As Pettit has only been in jail four months, a date for his trial can wait, Gauthier said.

The Rigot and Kierzek trials will be used to gauge the effectiveness of the new normal for jury trials, with tweaks to be made as needed, for trials to follow.

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

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