ST. CHARLES, Mo. — A St. Charles County jury recommended a potential 60 years in prison on Friday for a 23-year-old man convicted of infecting another man with HIV and exposing four others to the disease while attending college.


The jury suggested a 30-year prison term on 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 reports.


On Thursday, Johnson was convicted on four lesser charges of "recklessly risking infection of another with HIV" which could bring an additional 30 years in prison if the sentences are ordered to be served back to back.


"Michael Johnson's conviction for exposing one of his sex partners to HIV and "attempting to expose" four others to the virus reinforces both an "ignorance is bliss" approach to sexual health and personal responsibility, and public hysteria and misconceptions about HIV," warned Catherine Hanssens, Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy and an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in HIV legal and policy work.


Johnson was expelled from Lindenwood and has been jailed since his 2013 arrest. Prosecutors argued that Johnson knew he was HIV positive and lied to his sexual partners.


Still many LGBT rights and reform activists say it is time to revisit HIV law, arguing that it criminalizes a medical condition, fails to curb infection rates and frequently causes HIV positive individuals to avoid treatment.


"Failure to disclose, or outright lies, about one's sexually transmitted infections or sexual past is extremely common," said Dr. Wendy Armstrong, Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. "People lie about having herpes, a spouse, a job, types of sex they feel are stigmatized, and a host of others things a sex partner might well prefer to know. Some of these lies are painful, some of them life-destroying. But the hang-them-high response seems to be reserved for discoveries of HIV non-disclosure and is based on misguided and outdated information about HIV and treatment."


"HIV is no longer a death sentence," Armstrong continued. "Like herpes, it is an incurable but treatable viral infection. With treatment, a person living with HIV will in all likelihood live a normal life span."


St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar thinks the jury’s sentencing recommendations are appropriate,  stating “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.”

 

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