ST. LOUIS — A Missouri appeals court ordered a new trial Tuesday for a former college wrestler sentenced to 30 years in prison for infecting another man with HIV and endangering four other sexual partners.A panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals’ Eastern District overturned the conviction and sentence for Michael Johnson in a case that has drawn the attention of legal reform groups and gay rights activists.
The panel ruled that the St. Charles County trial court last year abused its discretion by admitting excerpted recordings of phone calls Johnson made while jailed. Those recordings weren’t disclosed to Johnson’s attorneys until the morning of the first day of trial.
The court ruled that the prosecution’s violation was “knowing and intentional and was part of a trial-by-ambush strategy …,” Presiding Judge James M. Dowd wrote.
Messages left with St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar were not immediately returned.
Johnson was a student-athlete at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb, until his arrest in 2013. He was convicted of one count of recklessly infecting another with HIV, and four counts alleging he exposed or tried to expose others. Prosecutors argued Johnson knew he was HIV positive and lied to sexual partners.
St. Charles police Det. Don Stepp testified during the penalty phase of the trial that more than a dozen other men came forward after news reports of Johnson’s arrest, claiming they had sex with him. Stepp said those men didn’t want to file formal complaints, with some saying they hadn’t told their families they were gay.
Johnson’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said he was pleased the conviction and “Draconian” sentence were vacated.
“Statutes like the one used to prosecute Mr. Johnson are inherently problematic, as they promote stigma and animus towards people living with HIV in violation of their legal and constitutional rights,” Lustberg said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which also supported Johnson, said the violation of Johnson’s right to a fair trial was “just the beginning” of trouble with the case, claiming the fact that Johnson was black and gay were factors in his conviction.
“The law under which he is charged is based on outdated science from a time when HIV policy was based on panic,” ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said. “The prosecution used that fear, along with racism and homophobia, to get a conviction.”
During his initial trial Johnson pled not guilty to the four felonies he was facing and insisted that he’d informed all of his sexual partners of his HIV status before they agreed to have unprotected sex with him. Six partners of his—including two who claimed that he had infected them with HIV—denied this, though, as BuzzFeed noted, their testimony was somewhat contradictory. Because Missouri is a state in which not informing someone about your HIV status can lead to a felony offense, Johnson faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Soon after his sentencing, nearly 100 openly gay, black public health advocates, medical professionals and queer rights activists wrote an open letter to Johnson expressing their belief that Johnson’s race factored into the predominantly white jury’s decision.
“HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV,” the letter read. “HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.”
Who is responsible for your HIV infection?
This is a sensitive topic. But when we make decisions on Sexual partners it is a reflection of our own personal choices.
We trust because we feel like there are no other options.
Let’s look at heterosexual couples first. How many of you out there requested a couple’s HIV test before you had sex with your partners? I know many of my readers are married or in committed relationships. But you can think back to a time when you were single. Did you have a mandate for testing before the Relationship went to the next level?
When we talk about relationships it is a little bit crazy to bring up STDs in the middle of a conversation. Like how exactly do you go about asking if they’ve been tested? And how likely are you to trust their answer? People do lie for the dumbest reasons. And getting laid is a great reason. They already know that if they disclose their status, you will say, HELL NO! unless you are positive yourself.
For homosexuals. This one is tricky because of one element. Many of them are lying out their asses and haven’t even told their families the truth of who they are. So you’re living a lie but when someone lies to you, they are wrong? One of the things I still can’t comprehend is that people are still lying about Sexual preference. Gays have it bad for a couple reasons. When they meet a closet gay and he is in denial about his attraction to men, then he becomes a secret. Much like a mistress. How do you think that makes them feel? The same way a woman feels when she’s sleeping with a married man. She feels like he’s ashamed of her. And HE is! The same thing for the gay guy who wants a relationship but is being treated like an Embarrassment or an accident.
Now yes if you are WILLFULLY fucking around with somebody’s spouse, then shame on you! But does the cheater get what he deserves? Well if you are in the shadows looking for some man to satisfy your Sexual urges and you’re not being honest with your long term mate, yes you do. Harsh? Yep. Reality even more yep. But what about the spouse? I’ve touched on this same topic a while ago. The real victims are the unknowing spouses who sleep unprotected with their husbands. When you live a lie, you put your life and everyone else’s life around you in danger. Your decision to sleep unprotected with strangers is the reason why you’re faced with a uncertain future.
What this guy did by not being upfront is dead wrong. But really, whose fault is it?
And are black men criminalized for being gay and HIV positive? I honestly never thought about it. I’ve written a few blogs about men not revealing that they were infected, but never really gave thought to the whole race thing. Yes I know it’s still not acceptable for gay black men in a lot of arenas. But I figured that was for everyone.