The sad and deeply unfair story of 25-year-old Michael Johnson, a.k.a. “Tiger Mandingo,” the former college wrestler sentenced to decades in prison for failing to disclose his HIV status, continues…
Just to recap: In 2015, Johnson was accused of “recklessly infecting” multiple partners with HIV while he was a student at Lindenwood University in Missouri. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a jury pool stacked with white, HIV-negative heterosexuals, the majority of whom actually said they thought being gay was a sin.
Nothing unfair about any of that, right?
At the time, Johnson’s conviction once again raised questions about America’s HIV criminalization laws, which activists say ignore decades of medical science, fail to actually reduce infection rates, and disproportionately punish black men, as HIV rates are higher among people of color.
Both the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have publicly condemned laws criminalizing HIV.
Johnson began serving his sentence at the South Central Correctional Facility in July of 2015 and spent his first year locked in solitary confinement.
Last December, his conviction was overturned after it was determined prosecutors had acted unfairly when they failed to share recorded conversations they had with Johnson to the defense. Those recordings were what was ultimately used to convict him.
After the conviction was thrown own, prosecutors quickly refiled charges. Now, after several months of negotiating with Johnson and his lawyers, they’ve offered him a plea bargain: No admission of guilt and 10 year sentence (with credit for time served), or a retrial and a potential 96-year prison sentence.
Yes, you read that correctly, 96 years.
With no good options, Johnson accepted the plea. He will continue serving his time at the South Central Correctional Facility.
This latest development once again highlights the need for HIV criminalization laws to be wiped from the books.
Rashaan Gilmore, the program director of the Kansas City chapter of Blaqout, tells MetroWeekly such laws “foster neither safer sex practices nor shared responsibility for sexual health.”
Mayo Schreiber, deputy director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, adds: “It is disturbing that Michael is not yet a free man and was not exonerated after his years-long struggle for justice, but we respect and support his decision not to risk a life behind bars.”
“It likely is the end of his case, but our work to bring an end to HIV criminal laws like Missouri’s continues.”