Michael Johnson was convicted of keeping his HIV status secret from several partners, and now a jury has recommended that the former college athlete spend at least the next three decades in prison.
The wrestler from the University of Missouri was convicted after a trial that lasted three days. Missouri law requires that people disclose their HIV status to sex partners, but prosecutors said Michael Johnson was hooking up with men through various dating apps and not informing them.
“What we have here is a perfect storm of malice,” said Assistant Prosecutor Phil Groenweghe.
Johnson’s official charges were, via BET.com, “transmitting HIV to Lemons and to Charles Pfoutz through anal sex (both Class A felonies); one Class B felony for attempting to expose HIV to Montell Moore through anal sex without transmission; and three additional Class B felonies for exposing Christian Green, Filip Cukovic, and Andrew Tryon to HIV.”
The Michael Johnson HIV trial was a complicated one. Gay rights and legal reform groups have spoken out against the idea of criminalizing HIV, saying that such laws deter people at risk of acquiring HIV from seeking help.
An organization called The Body, an HIV/AIDS resource center for African-Americans, published an open letter to Michael Johnson saying his HIV status should not be criminalized.
“We are aware that you have been charged with felony HIV-exposure in Missouri for allegedly not disclosing your HIV-status to your sexual partners. However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. 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.
“HIV criminalization laws are unjust to people living with HIV. Under these laws, people living with HIV are expected to share their HIV status, even though our society is one that stigmatizes and discriminates against people living with HIV. Through HIV criminalization laws people are forced to disclose and to not consider the serious consequences of disclosure.”
The jury actually recommended a total of 60 years behind bars for all his convictions, but Michael Johnson asked that a judge review the HIV conviction and determine if he can serve the sentences concurrently. If so, that would still put him in prison for the next 60 years.
[Image via St. Charles County Department of Corrections]