A college wrestler has pleaded no contest to one count of knowingly transmitting HIV to a male sex partner and exposing four other men.
In 2015 Michael Johnson, known by the nickname Tiger Mandingo, was sentenced to 30 years for “recklessly” infecting a partner. But a new trial was ordered last year after a Missouri appeals court ruled prosecutors withheld evidence.
The case received national attention for shining a spotlight on HIV criminalization laws, which critics say are outdated and biased. It was also fueled by reports of dozens of videos of the former athlete having unprotected sex with different partners. Police say more than a dozen men came forward claiming he had sex with them—ultimately six testified that Johnson, 25, failed to disclose he was HIV-positive.
He was originally convicted of five counts of recklessly exposing and infecting partners, a Class B felony under Missouri’s HIV criminalization law. His 30-year sentence was actually longer than many handed out for second-degree murder in Missouri. But in December, Johnson’s conviction was overturned when the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that jailhouse phone calls Johnson made weren’t disclosed to his attorneys until the first day of his trial.
His new plea doesn’t mean he admits guilt, but rather accepts there was ample evidence to convict him if the case went to trial. According to Buzzfeed, Johnson accepted a sentence of 10 years but could be eligible for parole within 18 months. And because the charges fall under a health statute, and not a sexual offense, he will not be required to register as a sex offender.
Johnson’s attorneys argued his partners had a responsibility for their own sexual health, and that HIV is not the death sentence it was when Missouri’s mandatory disclosure law were enacted in the 1990s. They also accused the prosecution of using fear and racism to get a conviction.
In March 2015, Republican state Rep. Travis Fitzwater introduced HB 1181, which proposed adding “spitting while HIV-positive” to Missouri’s already-severe HIV statutes.