Jurors to deliberate in Winfield trial
ALPENA — A dozen jurors must consider more than 100 pieces of evidence and the testimony of at least 36 witnesses, presented over 70-plus hours of testimony, as they begin deliberations this morning in the trial of former Alpena Public Schools teacher Heather Winfield.
A former student accused Winfield of engaging in a two-year sexual relationship with him, beginning in the summer of 2016, when he was between 11 and 13 years old. Winfield denies the charges.
After nine-and-a-half days of testimony, attorneys on Tuesday presented their closing arguments, summarizing the evidence set before jurors since the trial began with jury selection at Alpena’s APlex on Sept. 7.
Jurors must consider whether the teacher or the student controlled the relationship between the two, attorneys said.
Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski depicted Winfield as a predator, grooming the alleged victim deliberately in preparation for her own sexual gratification by inviting the troubled youth into her home and showering him with gifts and attention.
The News does not identify alleged survivors of sexual assault.
The defendant exploited the alleged victim’s vulnerability to control him and keep her his, even at the risk of her own family, the prosecutor said.
Control actually lay in the hands of the alleged victim, the defense countered.
Attorney Matt Wojda described Winfield as beaten down by an arc of escalating violence as the alleged victim tried to manipulate his former teacher through verbal and physical abuse.
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Calling the testimony of an FBI agent describing grooming behavior “extremely flawed,” Wojda enumerated inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s testimony and said the jury should not trust the now-17-year-old’s stories of rampant sex between himself and Winfield, often allegedly in front of other people or in public.
During his testimony earlier in the trial, the alleged victim said he has no memory of the date Winfield said he raped her in her home when the boy was 13.
Neither side introduced Google location data, which twice caused the trial’s postponement. Two years ago, the data had not yet arrived by the time of the trial. Last year, the information arrived days before the trial was to begin.
The data could have indicated who was present in the hotel rooms allegedly visited by Winfield and the boy for sex.
That information could not be used because the prosecution did not provide the expert testimony Judge Roy Hayes ruled would be required to explain it to the jury.
With the conclusion of Tuesday’s closing statements, the trial shifted onto the laps of the jurors who have watched and listened from the juror’s box for 11 days.
Two of the 14 jurors ― chosen by random draw by Hayes ― must serve as alternates, unable to participate in deliberations after sitting through the full trial. Hayes expressed thanks and apologies to the two, who were released late on Tuesday.
Jurors must decide by unanimous verdict whether the prosecution has proven any or all of seven charges against Winfield:
∫ Separate charges of engaging in sex with a person under 13 on at least two occasions,
∫ Making sexual contact with a person under 13,
∫ Having sex with a person between 13 and 15,
∫ Enticing or soliciting a minor to have sex,
∫ Sexually assaulting that minor in connection with that enticement, and
∫ Using a computer, phone, or the internet to solicit a child to have sex.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.