Archive for Friday, October 13, 2006

Kansan among few to be tried for HIV crimes

October 13, 2006

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He didn't want to be known as "the guy with HIV." He wanted to be seen as normal.

Ironically, that desire is what caused Robert W. Richardson II to become notorious as apparently the only person in Kansas - and one of the few nationwide - to be tried and convicted for exposing people to HIV.

Victims say Richardson charmed them into thinking he truly cared for them, but that he either never told them of his HIV-positive status, lied about it outright or took off a condom during sex.

"It's just so upsetting that someone could come across as being such a wonderful, caring person ... and then to find out that everything that came out of his mouth was a lie," one of his sex partners said in an interview. "The whole thing was just a complete sham, and then it makes you not be able to trust other people."

'Not many' cases

Intentional HIV exposure is a crime that raises difficult issues both about public health and criminal conduct. In most states, it wasn't even on the books until the late 1990s, when a wave of criminal HIV-exposure laws were passed nationwide.

Experts say the cases tend to pop up sporadically, as Richardson's did, rather than being systematically pursued by prosecutors.

"You can definitely say there are not many" HIV-crime prosecutions, said Zita Lazzarini, a University of Connecticut researcher who's studied the issue.

A 2003 study published by Yale University identified just 300 people nationwide who had been prosecuted under such laws between 1986 and 2001. Of those 300, 44 were prostitutes and 15 were prison or jail inmates.

Perhaps the most notorious HIV case was that of Nushawn Williams, a New York man who public-health officials said had infected 13 women and girls in the late 1990s and exposed dozens more.

In Washington state in 2004, a 32-year-old man, Anthony Whitfield, was sentenced to 178 years for exposing 17 women to HIV.

Prosecution vs. public health

A concern often cited about criminal HIV laws is that the fear of prosecution might cause people not to share information that could be used to control the spread of the virus.

Another fear is that the laws might actually deter people from being tested, given that in Kansas and other states, you can't be charged with spreading HIV if you don't know you have it.

By current federal estimates, 25 percent of people infected with HIV don't know it.

"The concern is that by having something that criminalizes this behavior, you're going to undermine some of the public-health efforts," said Leslie Wolf, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco who studies ethical and legal issues related to HIV and AIDs.

Bebe Anderson, the HIV project director for the New York-based gay and lesbian-advocacy group Lambda Legal, said the group considered existing criminal laws against "reckless behavior" to be adequate, as opposed to exposure laws that refer to communicable diseases.

"We think it's a really counterproductive approach. For one thing, it really stigmatizes people with HIV, and it sort of implies that they are criminals," she said.

More victims

At trial last month, Richardson was convicted of four counts involving three women. He was found not guilty of exposing a fourth woman. At last testing, none of those women had tested positive for HIV.

"I know his lawyer tried saying that we were all scorned lovers. That is not the case," one of the women said. "Why would anyone ever choose to go through what we've gone through just because they were upset someone didn't want to see them anymore?"

The woman said she was tested shortly after having sex with Richardson, then at three months and six months. She's due for another test at the one-year mark, she said.

"I don't have fears that I am infected, but at this point for me it's more of an emotional issue," she said.

A fifth woman said Richardson exposed her in Lyon County and in Johnson County, Mo., and a sixth recently came forward in Douglas County to say Richardson exposed her shortly before Valentine's Day 2005.

Both victims and prosecutors have said they think Richardson had unprotected sex with more women who are reluctant to come forward. Richardson has lived in several states, including Louisiana, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Richardson will be sentenced Nov. 22. After he's finished in Douglas County, he will be transported to one of the other counties where he faces charges.

- Staff writer George Diepenbrock contributed to this report.

Comments

Bill Chapman 8 years, 5 months ago

This person deserves everything the judge can throw at him.

The idiot is assisting in the spread of a desease that can result in a long, lingering illness ending in death. He did it because he "wanted seen as a normal person". This is simple denial of his condition. His actions; voluntary or not resulted in his condition - he should accept that fact and be more responsible. To knowingly expose another person to HIV is nothing less than terrorism.

Linda Endicott 8 years, 5 months ago

Maybe...but there are probably many people who are tested and never bother to go back and get the results. And if in the meantime they've moved elsewhere, even if they tested positive and the state has the name of the person, they may not be able to find them.

So I guess it's possible to be tested and still not know you're positive.

All people who are infected don't always have ten years before the symptoms show up. Sometimes it happens quite quickly.

Sandra Willis 8 years, 5 months ago

These days, no one at all is "Normal."

I've had genital herpes, since I was 20 ... Everyone I've been with knew since diagnosis about that before we ever considered getting involved.

And, I have Multiple Scerosis, diagosed anyway, in 1989. I've learned that honesty about that is also very important.

I'm 38 now ...

Kelly Powell 8 years, 5 months ago

I do not think making a person legally responsible for the wanton act of spreading an incurable disease will stigmatize the HIV victims any more then the huge burden that is already placed on their shoulders. In my opinion, this man should be forced to walk the gauntlet staffed with the responsible and respectable members of the HIV community.....who would be armed with rattan staves.....And be forced to do this on the anniversary of every woman he knowingly tried to infect.

Confrontation 8 years, 5 months ago

crazyks: Those who don't get tested often don't know they are positive for about 10 years, which is when symptoms normally appear. People can also get anonymous tests (rather than confidential), and only that person knows the outcome.

The state of Kansas has a mandatory reporting law. All confirmed positive and confidential test results must be reported to KDHE. KDHE attempts to interview these people and get the names of their partners and the dates they had sex with those same partners. KDHE with then attempt to contact all partners and get them tested (without releasing the name of the original person). If, after this interview is done, someone comes forward and says this person had unprotected sex with them since they tested positive, then the state can look at the legal options. Also, if someone else tests positive and names the original person as a sex contact, then the original person can be in legal trouble if they had sex after a positive test.

Linda Endicott 8 years, 5 months ago

They think people will not get tested, for fear of being prosecuted? Because if they don't know they have it, they can't be prosecuted?

What a lame excuse...if you have HIV/AIDS, and are not treated for it, you'll know soon enough, tested or not.

Of course, by then your behavior may have guaranteed dozens of people will go to the grave with you.

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