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Judge: New virus rules don’t apply to trials

ROGERS CITY — Jury trials in northern Michigan are still in the works, despite the governor’s recent orders limiting some indoor activity to no more than 10 people, a judge said Monday.

The orders do not apply to non-social gatherings, which includes the work of courts, Judge Aaron Gauthier of the 53rd Circuit Court said Monday as he and attorneys discussed two upcoming trials in Presque Isle County.

“The governor still says we’re medium-risk” for community spread of the coronavirus, Gauther said via a livestreamed pre-trial hearing for defendant Kenneth Kierzek.

Kierzek’s trial, scheduled for September, will follow in the footsteps of the trial for Michael Rigot, beginning Aug. 11.

Both trials will be held at the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks, where a large space will allow prospective jurors to be separated, including in the jury room.

Internet access is not available at the site, so the trial will not be livestreamed, but space will be saved for the public to attend in person.

Jurors will be asked to wear masks, which may be lowered when they answer questions under oath. Gauthier said he’s undecided whether jurors will be asked to wear masks while they hear testimony.

“We want jurors to think of nothing but the evidence in front of them,” Gauthier said.

Masks can distract wearers with thoughts about breathing, being overheated, and whether their glasses are fogging up, the judge said.

Worries about personal safety if jurors aren’t masked could be equally distracting, he acknowledged.

Rigot, facing multiple sexual assault charges against two minors, has been in jail for 18 months and will be the first person in Northeast Michigan to face a jury in circuit court since COVID-19 made most court proceedings go virtual.

Kierzek, who has been incarcerated for over a year accused of sexually assaulting two children, will go to trial Sept. 16.

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

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