ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — A former suburban St. Louis college wrestler has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for infecting another man with HIV and endangering four other sexual partners.
Michael Johnson, 25, was sentenced Thursday after reaching a plea deal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch .
He initially was ordered to serve 30 years after a 2015 conviction, but an appeals court tossed the guilty verdict, finding that a trial court erred in admitting jail recordings that weren't disclosed to Johnson's attorneys in advance. The tapes were used to cast doubt on Johnson's claim that he disclosed he was HIV-positive to his sex partners.
Johnson was a student-athlete at Lindenwood University in St. Charles until his 2013 arrest. The case drew the attention of legal reform groups and gay rights activists who argued HIV criminalization is outdated, in part because of advances in treatment for the disease. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said the fact Johnson is black and gay were factors in his conviction.
St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar denied the prosecution of the case was motivated by Johnson's race or sexual orientation, arguing that Johnson denied the victims the right to make an informed decision about engaging in sexual activity with someone who could expose them to HIV.
Through the Alford plea that Johnson submitted, he acknowledged that the state has enough evidence to convict him. The concurrent 10-year sentence was the mandatory minimum for the two most serious charges — recklessly infecting and recklessly exposing a sexual partner to HIV.
"I think that the fact that the minimum was 10 years, that that's the best we can do, shows how severe these charges are," said Johnson's attorney, Eric Selig. "There is no other disease that, if you infect someone else with, you're charged with a crime."
Lohmar described the sentence as "appropriate" but added that the state laws criminalizing the failure to disclose HIV were passed in the 1980s and may be outdated.
"I think we had a lot more limited understanding about HIV and long-term consequences, so I think opponents of the law make a fair point," Lohmar said. "But that's something that would need to be handled by the Legislature."
Johnson, who was expelled from Lindenwood, is originally from Indiana, where he was a state wrestling champion.