Jury recommends decades in prison in Missouri HIV sex case

AP News
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Posted: May 15, 2015 5:20 PM
Jury recommends decades in prison in Missouri HIV sex case

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — A suburban St. Louis jury recommended decades in prison Friday for a 23-year-old man convicted of infecting another man with HIV and endangering four others with the disease while attending college in Missouri.

The St. Charles County jury suggested a 30-year prison term Friday for former Lindenwood University student and wrestler Michael L. Johnson on the most serious charge, which alleged he recklessly infected another with HIV, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1PL5K7U ) reported. Johnson's other convictions Thursday of lesser charges — four counts of recklessly risking infection of another with HIV — could bring the potential prison term to more than 60 years, if the sentences are ordered to be served one after the other.

When the jury's recommended sentences were read, Johnson — wearing a tan shirt and tie and grey slacks — showed no emotion. His sentencing hearing was scheduled for July 13.

Johnson, a college wrestler, was expelled from the university in St. Charles and has been jailed since his arrest in 2013. Prosecutors argued that Johnson knew he was HIV positive and lied to his sexual partners.

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

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar considered the jury's sentencing recommendations appropriate, saying "our community definitely takes this very seriously and agrees with the Legislature that this should be criminalized as it was, and they responded accordingly with a significant sentence."

During Friday's sentencing phase of the trial, St. Charles police Detective Don Stepp testified that after media accounts of Johnson's 2013 arrest, he was contacted by about a dozen other men who said they had sex with Johnson. But Stepp said they did not want to file a formal complaint, with some saying they hadn't told their families they were gay.

Stepp said one of 32 videos on Johnson's computer depicting sex with unknown partners showed Johnson engaged in unprotected sex the same day he got his HIV test at Lindenwood's health clinic.

"The six men you heard testify were only the tip of the iceberg," said Phil Groenweghe, an assistant prosecutor.

Testifying on behalf of Johnson, Meredith Mills said he was her stepson's friend in high school and that Johnson was especially helpful with her autistic daughter. Mills described Johnson as someone who always focused on the positives of life and never said or did anything mean.

Jurors on Thursday acquitted Johnson of a sixth charge — exposing another man to HIV — after that man testified he had unprotected sex with Johnson in the fall of 2012 but wasn't diagnosed with HIV until September 2013.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com