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Duluth teacher apologizes, seeks probation in sexual assault case

Karla Jean Winterfeld

Ahead of a sentencing date that could result in a lengthy prison sentence, a former Duluth teacher apologized for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old former student and sought leniency.

Karla Jean Winterfeld, 34, pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Facing a presumptive prison sentence, she did so without the benefit of a plea agreement.

Winterfeld's sentencing was to occur Tuesday but was postponed to Dec. 18. In anticipation of the hearing, she submitted a letter of apology addressed "to the courts and Duluth community."

"I am deeply sorry to my family, my victim, his family, and this community for the damage, pain, hurt, sadness, disappointment, and anger I have caused that cannot be undone," she wrote, "but please know that this will never happen again."

The letter was attached to a motion filed by defense attorney Jacob Brodin, who said he will seek a departure that would keep Winterfeld out of prison. Also submitted were more than three dozen letters of support from community members, including several teachers and other professionals in the Duluth school district.

Brodin said Winterfeld has accepted responsibility for her actions and shown remorse. He said she would benefit from community supervision and a local jail sentence, which could be served with the Duluth Bethel Female Offender Program.

The defense attorney noted Winterfeld would still be a registered sex offender, subject to strict supervision with a prison sentence hanging over her head, but argued that probation would allow her to address psychological issues.

"This would take into account the seriousness of the offense, the injury to Ms. Winterfeld's victim, and impose a loss of freedom for a significant period," Brodin wrote in eight-page departure motion.

Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for an executed prison sentence ranging from 12 to more than 14 years for an offender with no criminal history who is convicted of a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. To depart from guidelines and impose probation, a judge must find "substantial and compelling circumstances."

St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets has yet to respond to the motion. He requested that Tuesday's sentencing be delayed, citing the volume of information submitted by Winterfeld last week.

Winterfeld said in her letter that she began therapy in July, uncovering childhood trauma that was never addressed. She acknowledged acting inappropriately, saying the "pain and damage" she caused will be with her for life.

"As the role model I was in the community I have spent years of working with kids and their families when life has gone wrong and been challenging and that was truly an honor and privilege," she wrote. "But I know that I have let all of them down and disappointed them and many others by my actions and that is something I will never forgive myself for."

Winterfeld remains out of custody, having posted bond in June, about a month after her arrest. A Duluth teacher since 2007, she was most recently splitting her time between Lincoln Park Middle School and a combined position at the Duluth Area Learning Center and Academic Excellence Online in the Historic Old Central High School building.

Winterfeld will be sentenced by 6th Judicial District Judge David Johnson.

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