About 18 months ago, Lindenwood University student Michael L. Johnson was convicted of the Class A felony of “recklessly exposing another person to HIV,” which in Missouri carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The conviction raised an outcry amongst LGBT and human rights advocates—and now it’s been overturned.
The Washington Post reports that Johnson’s conviction was officially overturned on Tuesday, and the Missouri Court of Appeals has demanded a new trial for Johnson, citing specific evidence that was deliberately withheld by the prosecution. The evidence included phone recordings made by Johnson while in jail, in which he told someone he was only “pretty sure” he had revealed his HIV status prior to sex. The new court documents read:
In his first point on appeal, Johnson contends that the trial court erred by admitting the excerpted recordings of phone calls Johnson made while in jail that the State did not disclose to the defense until the morning of the first day of the trial. Johnson argues that the State’s disclosure of the recordings was untimely under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 25.03 and rendered his trial fundamentally unfair. We agree.
The problem with submitted evidence is just one issue with the case. ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said in statement to the Associated Press, “The law under which he is charged is based on outdated science from a time when HIV policy was based on panic,” adding, “The prosecution used that fear, along with racism and homophobia, to get a conviction.” Deputy director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York, Mayo Schreiber Jr., told them that the laws persecuting people with HIV often “fall on African-Americans and other groups with limited social capital.”
Johnson discovered he was HIV-positive in January of 2013, and had unprotected sex with a fellow student, identified as D.K.-L. in court documents, soon after. D.K.-L. was then diagnosed with HIV, and connected his diagnoses to Johnson. After seeing Johnson on dating apps with profiles that did not admit his HIV status, D.K.-L. called the police. He was arrested in October of 2013. There is not yet a date set for a new trial.