Main | Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Former College Wrestler Sentenced To 30 Years For "Reckless" HIV Transmission

Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A former Lindenwood University wrestler was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for recklessly infecting one sex partner with HIV and risking the infection of four others. Jurors in May had found Michael L. Johnson, 23, guilty of five felony charges after testimony that included experts in infectious diseases and the men who had unprotected sex with him. One of the men contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham, who issued the sentence, told Johnson he had committed “very severe” crimes. Prosecutors said he didn’t tell the partners he had HIV. “The main thing is the profound effect your actions have had on the victims and their families,” the judge said.
Johnson, once the state wrestling champion, was expelled after being charged in the case. Several major LGBT rights groups have long argued for the decriminalization of HIV transmission, citing both the advances in treatment and the responsibilities of the complainants.

UPDATE: Activists are outraged.
Mayo Schreiber, Deputy Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy and a long-time criminal defense attorney, pointed out, "The criminal statute that Michael Johnson was convicted of violating was originally passed in 1988, at a time when HIV was considered a 'death sentence.' Today, with proper treatment, HIV is a chronic, manageable disease and those with HIV can expect to live a full, healthy life. Yet violation of the Missouri law is a class A felony, with a sentencing range of 10-30 years or life imprisonment. Other class A felonies include murder or child abandonment resulting in death. Punishing Michael Johnson as if he is a murderer because state officials have failed to address a severely outdated, irrational criminal law is not only fundamentally unfair, it is barbaric."

Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum, a nationally-recognized adolescent HIV expert, and founder and director of the Health and Education Alternatives for Teens (HEAT), a treatment and prevention center for adolescents and young adults, expressed sadness and concern at the outcome of Mr. Johnson's case. Dr. Birnbaum stressed, "HIV criminal laws have no positive impact on the spread of HIV. Sentencing people living with HIV to prison for having sex will, based on decades of HIV clinical experience, only drive people away from health centers where they can learn their HIV status and get the medical care they need."

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