A Missouri man was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison on charges of infecting a sex partner with the virus, and endangering four others, The Associated Press reports.
In a case that is emblematic of how HIV criminalization unfairly impacts Black people and stigmatizes people living with HIV, Michael L Johnson, 25, was sentenced after reaching a plea deal, the report says.
Johnson, who is Black and gay, became a cause de célèbre among criminal justice reform groups and gay rights activists who charged HIV criminalization is outdated, in part due to advances in treatment for the virus, The AP writes. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri took it a step further, arguing that his race and sexuality played into his conviction.
The former wrestler at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, faced 30 years in prison after a jury decided in 2015 that he knowingly exposed and transmitted HIV to partners who had no idea he carried the virus. But an appeals court dismissed the guilty verdict, The AP notes, ruling that a trial court improperly admitted jail recordings that were not disclosed in advance to Johnson’s attorneys. The recordings were used to cast doubt on Johnson’s assertion that he informed his sex partners about his HIV status.
In the plea deal, Johnson “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,” writes The AP.