ALPENA, Mich. (AP) — A northern Michigan special education teacher has been accused of sexually assaulting a student, beginning when the boy was 11 years old.
Judge Thomas LaCross ruled Friday that there's enough evidence of an improper relationship between Heather Winfield and a student for the case to go to trial. Winfield faces multiple charges of criminal sexual conduct with a child younger than 13, The Alpena News reported.
Winfield was placed on administrative leave from Thunder Bay Junior High School in Alpena in October 2016 after district officials began investigating the allegations. Officials concluded that Winfield inappropriately communicated with a student but she resigned before the school board could vote on her termination.
Police say the boy, who is now 14, told authorities that Winfield sexually assaulted him more than 100 times starting in 2016.
Investigators found hotel receipts and financial statements that showed Winfield rented 16 rooms in a three-month span that matched the boy's allegations, said Michigan State Police Trooper Robert Mitchell.
Defense attorney Dan White noted that Winfield received positive teaching reviews and was known as a caring educator.
Winfield's attorneys said the case should be thrown out because of a lack of physical evidence found on blankets, pillows and cushions from Winfield's home. Tests indicated the materials had recently been washed.
Winfield's attorneys also argued that the boy wasn't credible because he made outlandish allegations, such as initially telling investigators that Winfield had sexually assaulted him "maybe 1,000 times."
"We have evidence that substantiates and corroborates his circumstantial evidence that there was an improper relationship between two troubled people," LaCross said. "Are his exaggerations to be believed? Absolutely not. But does that mean we aren't to believe anything? No, no, no."
A trial date hasn't been scheduled yet. Winfield could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted.