ST. CHARLES COUNTY • A former Lindenwood University wrestler was found guilty Thursday of exposing one of his sex partners to HIV and attempting to expose four others to the virus that causes AIDS.
Michael L. Johnson, 23, was found not guilty on a sixth charge — exposing another man to HIV. That man testified he had unprotected sex with Johnson in the fall of 2012 but wasn’t diagnosed with HIV until September 2013. Another of Johnson’s sex partners also contracted the virus.
Jurors deliberated for two hours and 20 minutes before returning the verdict. A sentencing hearing will be Friday; Johnson faces a maximum of life in prison.
In closing arguments, Assistant Prosecutor Phil Groenweghe told jurors that Johnson knew he was HIV-positive, yet when his sexual partners asked him about his status, he lied to them and said he was disease-free.
Johnson manipulated many of them into not using condoms, putting the men at significant risk of being infected, Groenweghe said.
“What we have here is a perfect storm of malice,” said Groenweghe.
Defense attorney Heather Donovan pointed out inconsistencies between the statements Johnson’s sex partners gave on the stand and what they told police, saying that created reasonable doubt.
Earlier Thursday, Johnson testified that he had disclosed his status to his partners before engaging in sex with them, something that is required by law in Missouri.
Johnson said in January 2013 he went to the health clinic at Lindenwood University, where he was a student, because he was feeling ill. He said he had an upcoming wrestling match, so he needed to get checked out.
He said the nurse suggested some tests and told him a short time later that he was HIV-positive.
“I was scared and confused,” he said. “I didn’t have any knowledge of HIV; I knew it was an STD, that’s all.”
He said that same day he met with Frank Lydon, a counselor with the state health department who told him how the virus is transmitted.
“I said something about my life being over, and he said, ‘No, it’s treatable,’” Johnson testified.
Johnson said he had to sign a document that said he would tell his future partners about his status, and he said he did, but his sexual partners testified that he told them he didn’t have any diseases.
In earlier testimony, prosecutors presented evidence that Johnson had tested positive for HIV in December 2011 in Indiana, his home state. But Johnson said that he did not remember going to a clinic in Indiana in 2011 and being tested for HIV or getting a positive result.
Johnson also recounted his sexual encounters with each of the men involved in the case, telling jurors how they had met, how long they had known each other before becoming intimate and details of their sexual encounters.
On cross-examination, Groenweghe said he was surprised that Johnson had such detailed remembrances of the relationships after two years.
He played a videotape of Johnson being interviewed by the St. Charles police much closer to the events, in October 2013, in which a detective asked him about one of his sex partners.
Johnson said he didn’t remember anyone by that name. When the detective showed Johnson a photo of the man, he said he didn’t recognize him.
Johnson testified that it’s true he didn’t remember the man then, but he does now.
Groenweghe asked Johnson if he had acted responsibly, why didn’t he tell give the health department the names of his sexual partners.
Johnson said heath officials told him he could notify them himself.