Michael L Johnson, 23, a former wrestler at Lindenwood University in Missouri, faces 60 years in prison after a jury determined on Friday that he knowingly exposed and transmitted HIV to partners who had no idea he carried the virus, STL Today reports.
The jury announced their recommended sentence for Johnson’s five felony charges on Friday afternoon. For transmitting the disease, the jury recommended a 30-year sentence. For three counts of exposure, the jury recommended 5 and 1/2 years for each. On a Class A exposure charge, the jury recommended that Johnson serve 14 years, bringing the total possible sentence to 60 years, Fusion reports.
At Johnson’s request, a judge will review his history and make a determination on whether he will serve that time concurrently or consecutively. If he is allowed to serve concurrently, Johnson still faces 30 years in prison and will have to serve 85 percent of any sentence handed down on the Class A charge.
“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,” said St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar.
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.
On May 7, a coalition of 89 gay men, using the hashtag #FreeGayBlackMen, wrote an open letter of support of Johnson, saying that HIV should be treated as a health issue and not a criminal one.
They wrote to Johnson in part:
We are aware that you have been charged with felony HIV-exposure in Missouri for allegedly not disclosing your HIV-status to your sexual partners. However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.
HIV criminalization laws are unjust to people living with HIV. Under these laws, people living with HIV are expected to share their HIV status, even though our society is one that stigmatizes and discriminates against people living with HIV. Through HIV criminalization laws people are forced to disclose and to not consider the serious consequences of disclosure.
Click here to read the entire letter.
Judge Jon Cunningham will sentence Johnson on July 13, according to Leslie Knight, spokesperson for the St. Charles County prosecutor’s office.