A man once profiled by Buzzfeed News for allegedly exposing several lovers to HIV has been given a new day in court, thanks to having his past conviction overturned.
Former Missouri college student Michael Johnson, who often used the name “Tiger Mandingo” in his online postings, was found guilty in 2015 of failing to tell several sexual partners of his HIV-positive diagnosis before having unprotected sex with them. As such, two men became infected with the virus that often leads to AIDS, and four in total were exposed.
Missouri law states that an individual with HIV must disclose their condition with any and all sexual partners, even if they consistently practice safe sex (sex with condoms) or non-penetrative sex. According to prosecutors, “Tiger” either chose not to do so or willingly lied and said that he was HIV-negative. St. Charles County judge Jon Cunningham would go on to sentence Tiger to 30 years in prison for his actions (which was abridged from an initial 60-year stint to be served consecutively).
The Missouri Appeals Court announced on Tuesday that before Johnson’s trial last year, state prosecutors gained knowledge of several phone calls that Johnson had made from prison. Although recorded, as most communication is when it comes to the unlawful, details of those conversations were not made clear, but their contents, also according to Buzzfeed, somehow allowed the prosecution to “gain a strategic advance” over Johnson’s defense team, especially as they weren’t noted of until the day the trial began.
“If we disclose [the recordings] to the defense,” an unnamed prosecutor was noted as saying, “[then] they’ll tell their client. And I’m not impugning anyone’s integrity — I’d do the same thing: ‘Hey, they’re listening to your conversations, [so] shut up.’ So, we don’t disclose them until toward the end.”
Because of the hold-off, lawyers fighting for Mandingo believe that they were not able to properly work on an adequate defense for their client. As such, Johnson’s initial sentence, which would’ve seen the now 24-year-old being first eligible for parole at 52, is now off the table. There is no word on when the new trial is set to begin.
Since nearly the beginning of the Tiger Mandingo matter, Buzzfeed has held firm on the suspicion that race was a major underlining factor of Johnson’s trial.
“What propelled Johnson’s case into headlines as far away as Australia was the volatile combination of race and sex epitomized by his own screen name, Tiger Mandingo,” Buzzfeed contributor Steven Trasher wrote.
“Many of Johnson’s sex partners, including four of the men he was charged with exposing to HIV, were white. And almost every news account featured photos that Johnson had posted on social media of his dark-skinned, muscular, and often shirtless [body].”
Additionally, despite earning a scholarship to Lindenwood University, a look into Johnson’s background revealed that the student suffered from learning disabilities and could not read or write well, something that his counsel believed hindered him from understanding all of the facts about his HIV diagnosis. Nonetheless, on July 13, 2015, Michael was given 30.5 years for exposing others to HIV.
In a jailhouse interview, the man formerly known as “Tiger Mandingo” relayed to Buzzfeed later that year that he never once thought of taking a plea deal.
“I could have been home [much] sooner with my family, [but] it would have been morally wrong,” he said.
“I wasn’t raised to give up because something is hard.”
He also said he was unsure of who infected him with the malady.
“I can’t say exactly who,” Johnson explained.
“There’s always an idea, but I wouldn’t want to say if I don’t know for sure.”
[Featured Image by wavebreakmedia/iStock]