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2 cases return to court in Alpena

News Photo by Julie Riddle Defendant Thomas Guthrie speaks to his attorney in a virtual courtroom on Monday.

ALPENA — Two court cases that came before local juries years ago were back in court on Monday.

Joel James, of Alpena, was in court for a status conference, on his way to a third trial regarding the same alleged crime.

James was convicted in 2016 of a 1990s sexual assault, after two trials in which Alpena juries were deadlocked in regards to at least one count against him.

Rulings by the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court determined the case needed to be sent back to Alpena courts to be tried once again. A further appeal by James’ attorneys was taken before the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

In the 26th Circuit Court Monday, Judge Benjamin Bolser said James, who was released from incarceration more than a year ago, will be near the top of the list of trials that will be held, once the county decides how it will conduct jury trials.

A jury in 2017 found another man, Thomas Guthrie, guilty of raping a male victim in 2005. A Michigan Court of Appeals order upheld the guilty verdict on one count, but sent Guthrie back to Alpena courts for resentencing after defense attorneys appealed his 20- to 50-year sentence.

Scheduled for Monday, the resentencing will wait until August while lawyers examine the new sentencing guidelines generated by the Michigan Department of Correction. The guidelines can’t take into consideration new paperwork filed by Guthrie since the trial, Bolser said, and must also reflect that one charge against Guthrie was dismissed by the Court of Appeals.

Guthrie — housed with the Michigan Department of Corrections — and defense attorney Bill Pfeifer left the videoconferenced court hearing briefly to speak privately in an online breakout room.

Returning to the virtual courtroom, Guthrie told the judge they hadn’t had enough time in the breakout room.

“I’m just kidding,” Guthrie said when Bolser showed concern that the defendant hadn’t been able to speak to his attorney. “I mean, to break out. I’m in prison. It was a joke.”

Guthrie will reappear in court to be sentenced on August 3. Charges against Guthrie regarding a second alleged victim, who was under 13 at the time he says he was sexually assaulted by Guthrie, are still pending.

Also in court Monday:

∫ Layken Barnett, an Alpena woman who pleaded guilty to illegally entering a home in January, was sentenced to 93 days of house arrest after her attorney successfully argued that jail time would make her lose her job.

At the time of her guilty plea, before pandemic-related court closures, Barnett intended to ask for work release from the anticipated 60-day jail sentence that was part of her plea agreement, attorney Matt Wojda said.

Because jails are not currently allowing work release — a coronavirus-related precaution — two months’ incarceration would mean Barnett, a single mother, would probably lose her job and her ability to support her children, Wojda said.

Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski countered that Barnett has already been given much leeway with the plea agreement — which included a reduction from the original charge of first degree home invasion — and an arrangement to keep the incident off her record.

A victim impact statement read by Muszynski said Barnett had threatened the victim and the victim’s family in the past, and, during the break-in, ripped out a section of the victim’s hair and gave her a concussion, in addition to vandalizing the victim’s car.

Bolser sentenced Barnett to 12 months’ probation and 93 days of house arrest, during which she may report to work. If arrangements for the house arrest are not made within a week, Barnett must report to jail and serve 60 days.

* A hearing for Christopher Olsen, accused of possessing child pornography, was postponed two weeks, pending the appointment of a new prosecutor for the case.

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

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Joel James was released from incarceration over a year ago. That information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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