College wrestler on trial for ‘exposing partners he met online to HIV’

A man who prosecutors say recklessly endangered other gay men by having sex with them and not revealing he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS is on trial in Missouri on Tuesday.

Court documents allege that Johnson told two of his sex partners that he was disease-free when asked, but in other cases the at-risk person apparently didn’t inquire.

Gay rights activists and some legal reform groups say Michael L. Johnson’s case highlights outdated laws.

They say such laws in Missouri and more than 30 other states criminalize a medical condition and deter those at risk of infection from seeking help.

Johnson, 23, faces felony HIV exposure charges. Prosecutors accuse him of ‘recklessly infecting’ two male sex partners with HIV and knowingly exposing four others over nearly 10 months after being diagnosed as HIV positive in January 2013.

He has pleaded not guilty and his trial began with jury selection Monday in suburban St. Louis.

The encounters occurred with six different men in Johnson’s dorm room and other campus housing at Lindenwood University, a private school in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles. Johnson, of Indianapolis, was a wrestler at Lindenwood.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that police discovered 32 videos of Johnson engaging in unprotected sex. It was unclear how many different men were depicted on the tapes.

Johnson’s public defender did not respond to multiple interview requests, and a spokeswoman for St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar said he was unavailable to discuss the case before trial.

Johnson is charged with two counts of recklessly infecting another with HIV and four counts of recklessly risking infection of another with HIV. All of the charges are felonies.

Under Missouri law, Johnson faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years if convicted of the recklessly infecting another with HIV charges. The other four charges carry possible sentences of between five and 15 years.

Kimber Mallett, a Lindenwood graphics design instructor who has regularly visited Johnson in jail since his October 2013 arrest, said her former student rejected a plea bargain and ‘wants to fight’ the charges.

‘He doesn’t think he did anything wrong,’ she said.

According to a probable cause statement that outlines five of the six charges, Johnson didn’t wear a condom while having either oral or anal sex. Missouri law adopted in 1997 explicitly excludes condom use as a defense.

In a written summary of the case, The Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York asserts that ‘treating Johnson’s past sex partners … as victims puts the government seal of approval on their avoidance of responsibility for personal decisions about their sex lives.’ It adds:

‘Having unprotected sex is poor judgment, not a criminal act.’

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