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Former College Wrestler Convicted Under Missouri HIV Laws Now Free

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 10, 2019

A former college wrestler who was convicted in 2013 under laws criminalizing HIV-positive status is now free on parole after having served five years out of what would originally have been a shocking 30-year sentence, reports Buzzfeed News.

Michael Johnson's trail was tainted by racial bias and anti-gay animus, noted the BuzzFeed article, which recalled that the jury — comprised entirely of straight people, all but one of them white — viewed video stills of his genitalia during his prosecution. The trial took place in Missouri.

An earlier Buzzfeed article on Johnson's case outlined the young man's supposed crimes and the backdrop against which they occurred. Missouri law requires that HIV positive people disclose their status to sexual partners, even when they use condoms and practice other forms of safer sex. The original prosecution accused Johnson of deliberately misleading sexual partners about his status, BuzzFeed reported.

Media reports, including an article at BET .com, reported that the original conviction was voided by an appeals court due to misconduct on the part of prosecutors in Johnson's trial. But Johnson opted not to face another trial and took an Alford plea of no contest. He was then sentenced to a decade in prison for not having disclosed his status to sexual partners. noted that Johnson was initially expected to be paroled in October of this year.

Johnson's original case was handled in such a controversial manner that even the prosecutor, Timothy Lohmar, now supports reform of Missouri laws regarding HIV positive people and disclosure of their status to sexual partners. In recent years, media reports noted, other states have begun modernizing their laws around HIV status and disclosure. Modern medicine ensures that HIV positive individuals on an effective treatment regimen cannot pass HIV along to others.

Johnson's conviction was for "recklessly" exposing others to HIV — six men in all, Buzzfeed reported, four of them white. No scientific evidence was presented to show that Johnson actually infected anyone, reports said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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