News » AIDS

Former Wrestler Convicted of Transmitting HIV Speaks on Exposure Laws

by Sam Cronin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 18, 2019

Michael Johnson, the former wrestler from Lindenwood University who was convicted of transmitting HIV, was recently released from Missouri State Prison.

"Johnson is adjusting to a new life in Indiana as a man open about his diagnosis and advocating for others. Monday, he spoke exclusively to the I-Team's PJ Randhawa about being convicted with a law that legislators, prosecutors, and activists say needs to change."

"Going from state to state made it very difficult for access to care," Johnson said. "And I was a poor person or minority and just, you know, didn't have the funds needed to buy a car. What could've been almost a hundred dollars for just a taxi ride there."

Johnson was convicted of felony exposure to HIV without the victim's knowledge, which carries a minimum 10-year sentence if the virus spreads to the victim. "In 2016, an appellate court sent Johnson's case back to a retrial, finding that he didn't get a fair defense. On his second time around, Johnson accepted a plea deal for a 10-year sentence."

State Representative Tracy McCreery, a democrat that represents Missouri District 88, is working to change the law in her district. "It's unbelievable," she said. "A lot of the laws reflect our ignorance of the disease. In Missouri law, the only disease that is called out specifically is HIV. Just because of that there's a lot of stigma."

McCreery recently proposed a law which would reduce penalties and require that the virus has been transmitted intentionally.

Additionally, Dr. Rachel Presti, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University, says that there have been massive updates in the science around HIV since the 1980s when the current laws were written.

"You can take a single tablet, one pill once a day, suppress the virus, normal life expectancy, no transmission, in fact quite often we tell people it's easier to treat HIV than it is to treat diabetes or hypertension at this point," she said.

As for Johnson, he hopes to return to school to finish his degree and become a wrestling coach. He hopes that by speaking out about his story, he can help change HIV laws in not only Missouri but also nationwide.

"I want as many people as possible to know, you know, I am HIV positive, you know, so if I break down those walls so people are not afraid to speak their truth and to get their story out, there'll be the better it will be for change to happen."

Comments on Facebook