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Former wrestling champion sentenced to 30 years for HIV exposure

In May a jury found Michael L. Johnson guilty of knowingly exposing sexual partners to HIV.

By Fred Lambert

ST. CHARLES, Mo., July 14 (UPI) -- A former college wrestling champion who was found guilty of knowingly exposing sexual partners to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Monday.

Michael L. Johnson, 23, was accused of infecting one sexual partner with HIV and recklessly exposing four others to the virus. In May, a jury found the former Lindenwood University wrestler guilty on all five counts.

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Prosecutors in St. Charles, Mo., utilized testimony of experts in infectious diseases and at least three men who claim to have had unprotected sex with Johnson, arguing that he lied to his sexual partners about having HIV.

St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham sentenced Johnson to 30 years for recklessly infecting another with HIV and 30.5 years -- a combined 5.5, 5.5, 5.5 and 14 years -- for the four lesser charges of reckless exposure. Cunningham decided to let the sentences run concurrently.

"He will infect people for his own sick purposes," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted one of Johnson's sexual partners as saying during the trail. "He has lost the privilege to be free."

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Johnson was a wrestling champion in his native state of Indiana in 2010 and a junior college All-American and national champion at Lincoln College in Illinois before joining the team at Lindenwood University, where he was expelled in 2013 after being charged.

Johnson's case gained criticism from gay rights and legal reform groups who contend that HIV laws are outdated due to, among other things, advances in treatments for the virus.

The Post-Dispatch reported that Johnson's attorney, Heather Donovan, had requested a lighter 10-year sentence, since contracting HIV "is not a death sentence anymore."

Cunningham disagreed and reportedly characterized Johnson's crimes as "very severe."

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