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.
More about the case
- Sixth woman claims exposure to HIV (10-10-06)
- 4 guilty counts in HIV case (10-03-06)
- Defendant in HIV trial takes stand, says he didn't intend to infect women (09-30-06)
- Expert: Drugs made HIV transmission unlikely (09-29-06)
- HIV-exposure trial questions man's intent (09-28-06)
- HIV-exposure trial to begin next week (09-23-06)
- Judge won't dismiss HIV charges (09-07-06)
- HIV case first test of state statute (08-21-06)
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.
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.