Alpena, MI – A former middle school special education teacher has been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting one of her preteen male students over a three-year period.
Former Thunder Bay Junior High School special education teacher Heather Winfield, 38, allegedly began sexually abusing the boy when he was 11 years old, The Alpena News reported.
The victim, who is now 14, estimated that he and Winfield had sex over 100 times, and said he has videos and photos to back his claims, according to The Alpena News.
Winfield, who has since resigned from her position, has been charged with using a computer to commit a crime, accosting a minor for immoral purposes, second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child younger than 13, third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child aged 13 to 15, first-degree criminal sexual conduct during the commission of a felony, and two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child younger than 13.
She faces up to life in prison if convicted.
During Winfield’s preliminary examination hearing, the teen said he and Winfield first met when he was placed in her special education class at Thunder Bay Junior High school.
The boy lived with his grandparents, who were also his guardians.
The married teacher soon began inviting the 11-year-old on family trips out-of-state, and took him to a football game for his birthday.
She also showered him with expensive gifts, including brand-name tennis shoes, a guitar, bicycles, and fishing equipment.
The victim told the court that Winfield began making sexual advances towards him during the summer of 2016, and that they first had intercourse in a trailer outside her home on July 2.
The sexual encounters became a regular occurrence from that point forward, he said.
Michigan State Police (MSP) Trooper Robert Mitchell told the court that, using hotel receipts and Winfield’s financial records, investigators learned she had rented 16 different hotels rooms in one three-month span in order to facilitate her sexual assaults of the boy, The Alpena News reported.
The teen said they also had sex at other locations, including a park and campsites.
“We would have what she called quickies all over the house and it could happen at any time of the day,” he told the court. “We were really sneaky about it.”
The teen recalled one occasion at his grandparents’ home, when Winfield allegedly came over with items she had just purchased at an adult toy boutique in Alpena and used the items with him.
Investigators located product numbers for the items the teen described, and matched them with receipts and bank records belonging to Winfield, Trooper Mitchell said.
The victim also provided investigators with nude photos Winfield had allegedly sent him, as well as a recording he said he had made of one of their sexual encounters.
The boy testified that Winfield once told him she was pregnant and sent him an ultrasound image, but said he didn’t know if she was telling the truth or what might have happened to the alleged pregnancy.
Concerns about Winfield’s relationship with the teen reached school officials at one point, but the boy initially told police that nothing was going on.
Later, a girl he was dating discovered he and Winfield were sending messages to one another over social media, and reported them to MSP.
The teen later confirmed that the messages were from conversations between him and Winfield.
Assistant Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski introduced a large binder containing pages of social media messages between Winfield and the teen during the court hearing.
But Winfield’s attorney, Matt Wojda, said that the boy fabricated the allegations against his former teacher after he became violent and began to lash out. Wojda said Winfield’s family had even been considering adopting the teen before everything fell apart.
He also argued that his client was not the person in the photos and videos the boy provided to investigators.
The teen claimed to have many more deleted nude photos of Winfield on his phone, but the MSP Forensic Team was unable to recover them.
At one point, the boy even contacted MSP and said he made everything up, Wojda said.
The victim said he only did so at the behest of Winfield.
Her attorney also accused the teen of sexually assaulting Winfield in her home – an allegation the boy said was “a lie,” and said the boy had impersonated Winfield and sent messages on her social media account in the past, The Alpena News reported.
Wojda noted that the alleged victim initially told investigators that he and Winfield had sex “maybe 1,000 times,” but later estimated they had 100 encounters.
“If I only had to judge on the boy’s testimony and nothing else, I would toss this case and have no problem doing it, because of the exaggeration he indicated,” 88th District Court Judge Thomas LaCross said on Friday, according to The Alpena News.
“But we have evidence that substantiates and corroborates his circumstantial evidence that there was an improper relationship between two troubled people. Are his exaggerations to be believed? Absolutely not. But does that mean we aren’t to believe anything? No, no, no,” LaCross said.
LaCross determined there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial, the Associated Press reported.