He faced a 30-year sentence for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV. It was declared as both barbaric and further criminalizing HIV. Now, six years after his arrest, a judge has granted him parole.
We have been following the story of Michael Johnson since May of 2015 when his 30-year sentence was originally handed down.
In addition to his conduct that sparked headlines around the world, the fear-inspired laws from the early onset of the AIDS crisis inspired a backlash from both the LGBT and legal communities.
In 2016, a Missouri appeals court overturned the conviction, faulting the conduct of Missouri prosecuting attorney Philip Groenweghe. In 2017, Johnson agreed to a 10-year no contest “Alford” plea deal rather than face another trial. The updates below in addition to our original article cover both matters in detail.
Today, GayStarNews is reporting
“Johnson was a star college wrestler at Missouri’s Lindenwood University. Police first arrested him in 2013 and his trial was full of race and sex discussion. Evidence presented to the court included images and descriptions of Johnson’s ‘huge’ penis.
He initially received his 30.5 years prison sentence.
In 2016, a Missouri appeals court overturned this conviction due to the timing of evidence. Last year, Johnson agreed to a 10-year, no contest plea deal rather than face another trial.
‘We had some hopes, because of all the support Michael had received and a couple of other factors, that he would get out at an earlier date,’ one of his lawyers, Eric Selig, said.
His early release depends on him not accruing any violations over the next year and a half.
If released in 2019, Johnson plans to live with his friend Meredith Rowan, who attended his parole hearing, in Indiana.
Many activists and organizations, such as the American Medical Association, criticize laws singling out HIV. Many states in recent years have changed their laws about HIV exposure. Last year, California passed a bill that reduced HIV exposure from a felony to a misdemeanor.”
“Michael was excited that it got approved,” Rowan told BuzzFeed News. “I have to look at it that I have a date, and it’s only 18 months away, and it’s still a lot sooner than a 30-year sentence,” Rowan said Johnson told her. If released as planned, Johnson will have served 60% of his 10-year sentence. The date is contingent upon Johnson not accruing any violations.”
Johnson will remain incarcerated at Boonville Correctional Facility until Oct. 9, 2019.
Watch this blog.
[UPDATE 1: July 15, 2015]
A 30-year sentence was delivered yesterday for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV, and it officially makes Michael “Mandingo” Johnson an HIV criminal.
“Having unprotected sex is poor judgment, not a criminal act,” said The Center for HIV Law and Policy as quoted in The Nation. They note in addition to Missouri, 31 other states criminalize HIV exposure or transmission and, in some cases, still penalize after status disclosure or condom use. That, and the fact most of these laws were written at the height of the epidemic in the late 80s and 90s, advocates argue, have the unintended consequences of fostering the stigma and heighten the risk of transmission by scaring people today of getting tested.
As LaTrischa Miles of Missouri AIDS Task Force relayed to Poz.com,
“The state of Missouri spends significant resources encouraging its citizens to be tested for HIV. The state then prosecutes people who test positive for HIV and are unable to prove that they disclosed this to their sexual partners. That just doesn’t make sense.
Adding The Atlantic, “Laws that make exposing someone to HIV a criminal act are designed to stop the virus from spreading. But they don’t.” Boom. So what does?
We will never know if Johnson lied about his status. We will never know if his victims ever asked. We do know no one protected themselves. The Center for HIV Law & Policy calls that “victims put[ting] the government seal of approval on their avoidance of responsibility for personal decisions about their sex lives.”
And Mayo Schreiber, the center’s deputy director says, “Punishing Michael Johnson as if he is a murderer because state officials have failed to address a severely outdated, irrational criminal law is not only fundamentally unfair, it is barbaric.”
Drops mic …
[UPDATE 2: December 1, 2016]
As we originally reported in May of 2015, Johnson was arrested on October 10, 2013.
We followed the story to his sentencing hearing (see original post below) last July when he was remanded for 30 years. Health advocates and legal professionals were flummoxed to put it mildly. A combination of out-dated laws written during the height of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, the lack of accountability of personal sexual behavior, and the prosecution of HIV+ people accomplished nothing in stopping the spread of the disease and if anything, discourages people from getting testing.
The panel ruled that the St. Charles County trial court last year abused its discretion by admitting excerpted recordings of phone calls Johnson made while jailed. Those recordings weren’t disclosed to Johnson’s attorneys until the morning of the first day of trial.
The court ruled that the prosecution’s violation was “knowing and intentional and was part of a trial-by-ambush strategy …,” Presiding Judge James M. Dowd wrote.”
Statutes like the one used to prosecute Mr. Johnson are inherently problematic, as they promote stigma and animus towards people living with HIV in violation of their legal and constitutional rights,” Johnson’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which also supported Johnson, said the violation of Johnson’s right to a fair trial was “just the beginning” of trouble with the case, claiming the fact that Johnson was black and gay were factors in his conviction.
“The law under which he is charged is based on outdated science from a time when HIV policy was based on panic,” ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said. “The prosecution used that fear, along with racism and homophobia, to get a conviction.”
We will continue to follow this case … watch this blog!
[UPDATE 3: September 27, 2013]
Last July, his 30-year sentence for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV was declared as both barbaric and further criminalizing HIV. Then, a Missouri appeals court ordered a new trial. Today, those loose ends get tied up.
We have been following the story of Michael Johnson since last July of 2015 when he was initially sentenced to 30 years to infecting another with HIV.
In his home state of Missouri, that is considered a Class A felony. He was also charged with four counts of recklessly exposing someone to the risk of infection, a Class B felony for a total of five.While the problematic criminalization of HIV rackeled our hackles, the verdict was later reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct.
As Metro Weekly is now reporting that Johnson has, “has decided to enter a no-contest plea.
Under the terms of the plea, Michael Johnson, 25, would be sentenced to 10 years in prison, but would avoid a trial and be credited with time served.
While Johnson is not admitting to fault with a no-contest plea, the difficulty of defending himself may have factored into his decision to accept the deal.”
It is disturbing that Michael is not yet a free man and was not exonerated after his years-long struggle for justice, but we respect and support his decision not to risk a life behind bars,” Mayo Schreiber, deputy director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy. “It likely is the end of his case, but our work to bring an end to HIV criminal laws like Missouri’s continues.”