ALPENA — The boy who claims he had a sexual relationship with his teacher took the stand in 88th District Court Thursday and described how the relationship began and eventually led to sexual acts being done more than 100 times over a three-year span, beginning when he was 11 years old.
The boy, now 14, claims there are photos and videos that prove his story.
He testified during the second day of the preliminary examination in the sex assault case against former Thunder Bay Junior High School teacher Heather Winfield. The preliminary exam, used to determine if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial, began Wednesday and will continue Friday.
The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.
The defense countered the boy’s testimony strongly, claiming he made up the story and created fake evidence. The boy had the password to Winfield’s phone.
During the cross-examination, questioning became heated and the victim became verbally aggressive toward Winfield’s counsel and Judge Thomas LaCross called for a recess to let things cool down.
The victim, who officials say has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said Winfield, his special education teacher, showered him with gifts, included him in her family vacations, and, ultimately, seduced him.
Winfield, who resigned from the school, is charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child younger than 13 and with first-degree criminal sexual conduct during the commission of a felony, third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child aged 13 to 15, second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child younger than 13, accosting a minor for immoral purposes, and using a computer to commit a crime.
If convicted, Winfield could face life in prison.
‘WE WERE REALLY SNEAKY’
The saga began, the boy testified, when he was placed in special education at the school under the tutelage of Winfield, who gradually earned his trust and that of his grandparents, who are the boy’s guardians. He said he was invited to take trips on spring break to Florida and Tennessee, where Winfield took him to a football game for his birthday. He also received many gifts, such as fishing gear, bikes, a guitar and amplifier, and expensive, name-brand tennis shoes from his teacher, he told the court.
It was early in summer 2016 when the boy said the sexual advances began. On July 2 of that year, he said, the two had intercourse in a trailer that was in the yard at Winfield’s home and more assaults continued from there. He said Winfield took him to several different hotels in Alpena, where they had sex, and that they also frequented Duck Park and other local trails and campsites where they could be together. He said Winfield sent him nude photos and he took a video of one encounter.
LaCross let the prosecution enter the photos and video as evidence.
According to the alleged victim, Winfield also sent him a photo of an ultrasound image and told him she was pregnant. The boy said he is unsure what happened to the pregnancy or if there really was one.
Assistant Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski asked the boy how it made him feel afterward and he said it made him feel “cool” and he decided to just “roll” with what was happening.
“We would have what she called quickies all over the house and it could happen at any time of the day,” he said. “We were really sneaky about it.”
After the school was alerted there could be some misbehavior between the two, law enforcement was contacted, but the boy at that time denied there was anything sexual taking place. It wasn’t until much later that he fessed up to his grandparents, who contacted authorities once more, and an investigation started.
Muszynski introduced to the court a large binder containing pages upon pages of Facebook messages she claimed the two sent one another.
A girl the victim was dating while the affair was allegedly ongoing discovered some of those messages on the boy’s device and reported them to the Michigan State Police, who contacted Alpena Public Schools. After being able to examine them, the alleged victim said he recognized the messages and said under oath that they were sent and received between Winfield and himself.
‘WHY DON’T YOU JUST COME CLEAN?’
Defense Attorney Matt Wojda painted a different picture of what really happened over the span of their relationship and claimed the Winfield family offered the troubled youth help and support. The family considered adopting him, the attorney said, but things turned sour and violent as the boy began to lash out and fabricated the whole story.
Wojda pointed out several discrepancies in the boy’s testimony Thursday compared to his initial statements to police. At one point, Wojda pushed the boy to come clean and admit he made up the allegations and sent the pictures from Winfield’s phone, to which he had the password.
The alleged victim admitted he had used Winfield’s phone to send messages and impersonated Winfield on her Snapchat account in the past.
“Why don’t you just come clean and admit none of this happened?” Wojda said.
LaCross stopped Wojda’s examination for a moment and then the focus shifted to alleged nude photos and pictures of an ultasound that the boy said Winfield sent him.
Wojda pointed out that the photos of the ultasound included the image of part of a Google search bar and suggested the victim grabbed the photo online and saved it on his phone. He also had the boy compare two pictures of what he claimed were Winfield’s breasts and had the boy see if there were any differences in them. The victim said one of the pictures had a “dark spot” on one of the breasts and the other didn’t, but that he did not doctor the photos.
“It must have been the camera,” he said.
The victim also claimed to have more nude photos of Winfield on his phone, but said he had deleted them. He’s aware the MSP Forensic Team had tried to recover them, but found no images in their examination.
“I don’t know what they did because they were there,” he said.
As pressure from law enforcement heated up, the boy said Winfield, a friend and himself devised a plan that would hopefully put the investigation to rest. After telling police about the alleged assaults, he later sent a text to an MSP detective, saying he had made up the entire thing.
Near the end of cross-examination Wojda explained how the boy would become angry when he didn’t get his way and would often throw things at Winfield and hit one of her other children. He said the youth had punched holes in the wall and made threats against Winfield’s husband.
Wojda described an incident in a bathroom in Winfield’s home, where the defense alleged the boy sexually assaulted Winfield and then locked himself in the bathroom. The boy said Winfield made up that story.
“It is a lie,” he said.
The police report says the alleged victim had sex while others were nearby, and Wojda questioned those stories.
“You said you were being sneaky, but yet you claim you were doing it near or by all of these people in the homes and in public,” Wojda said. “You mean to tell me nobody ever seen and you never got caught? That’s just hard to believe.”
After another heated exchange between Wojda and the witness, LaCross ended the day’s proceedings. The preliminary examination will continue at 1:30 p.m. today in 88th District Court.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.