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Questionnaires returned ahead of jury selection for Winfield trial

News Photo by Julie Riddle Chairs in the Alpena County Courthouse Circuit Court courtroom are off limits as local courts adjust routines to resume jury trials with coronavirus-related restrictions.

ALPENA — Several hundred potential jurors for an upcoming two-week trial for former Alpena Public Schools teacher Heather Winfield returned mailed questionnaires, sharing information that may exclude them from being required to show up for jury duty on Oct. 15.

The questionnaires are part of local courts’ efforts to resume criminal jury trials in Alpena after a coronavirus-dictated stoppage since March.

The trial, anticipated to last two weeks at the end of October, will require an extensive jury pool because of the nature of the case and the potential for many local residents to have connections with the defendant or other parties in the case.

Winfield is accused of sexually assaulting a former student while employed as an APS special education teacher. She maintains her innocence.

Of 200 mailed questionnaires, all but 29 were returned by the deadline on Friday, according to Alpena County Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs.

Standard practice when regular jury paperwork isn’t returned is to follow up with a second mailing or phone call before issuing a contempt of court summons.

The questionnaires — which asked respondents whether they had learned about the trial in the media and were capable of making an unbiased judgement, along with inquiries about health issues and COVID-19-related concerns — will be reviewed by both parties in the trial.

Those deemed not a fit for the trial for health or other reasons will be notified by the court that they don’t have to be present for jury selection, scheduled to be held at the Merchant’s Building at the Alpena County Fairgrounds beginning Oct. 15.

If more than 115 possible jurors — the number that can safely fit in the Merchant’s Building — remain after attorneys examine the returned questionnaires at the beginning of October, a blind draw will determine who must show up for jury duty.

The two-week trial itself will be held in the Circuit Court courtroom at the Alpena County Courthouse, with the potential use of videoconferencing between rooms in the courthouse to allow for public access to the trial.

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