News (USA)

Man on trial in HIV exposure case previously tested positive, say prosecutors

Man on trial in HIV exposure case previously tested positive, say prosecutors
Michael L. Johnson
Michael L. Johnson

ST. CHARLES, Mo. — A 23-year-old man accused of exposing other gay men to HIV while attending college in suburban St. Louis tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS in Indiana two years before being diagnosed in Missouri, prosecutors said Tuesday.

They disclosed the new evidence during their opening statement in Michael L. Johnson’s trial in St. Charles County. The former wrestler at Lindenwood University in St. Charles is accused of infecting two of his sex partners and endangering four others. He has pleaded not guilty to six felony charges.

His public defender declined to make an opening statement and did not address Johnson’s earlier test while cross-examining three prosecution witnesses.

The former state high school wrestling champion from Indianapolis could face decades in prison if convicted. Johnson also was a junior college national champion at Lincoln College in Illinois.

Johnson’s case has drawn the attention of gay rights activists and some legal reform groups. They say that laws in Missouri and dozens of other states criminalize a medical condition and deter those at risk of infection from seeking medical treatment.

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Court documents allege that Johnson told two of his sex partners that he was disease-free when asked, but in other cases the at-risk person apparently didn’t inquire.

“He didn’t just fail to disclose” his status, said assistant county prosecutor Philip Groenweghe. “When he was specifically asked if he was clean … he lied.”

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Groenweghe told the four men and eight women on the jury that while the sex in each encounter was consensual, Johnson recklessly exposed his partners to HIV.

A nurse and a state disease prevention specialist testified that Johnson repeatedly insisted he wasn’t sexually active during several follow-up visits over a period of nearly 10 months after being diagnosed as HIV positive in January 2013 in Missouri, even as he subsequently was diagnosed with other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea.

The encounters occurred in Johnson’s dorm room and other campus housing at the private liberal arts school. Johnson was expelled from the university and has remained in jail since his arrest in October 2013.

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According to testimony, Johnson used online gay dating sites while attending Lindenwood, a conservative campus where the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance was forced to refer to itself by another name until recently.

Johnson is charged with two counts of recklessly infecting another with HIV and four counts of recklessly risking infection of another with HIV. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years if convicted of the recklessly infecting another with HIV charges. The other four charges carry possible sentences of between five and 15 years.

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