MATT HAMPTON | Reporter
Former Lindenwood wrestler Michael L. Johnson was sentenced Thursday afternoon to 10 years in prison after pleading no contest in St. Charles County Court to exposing or attempting to expose five sex partners to HIV.
Johnson, now 25, had previously been found guilty of the same felonies at a five-day jury trial in May 2015, but an appeals court overturned that conviction and Johnson’s 30-year sentence.
At Thursday’s hearing, Johnson entered an Alford plea to having unprotected sex with men after he was diagnosed with the disease. Under the plea, Johnson did not admit to every element of the charges, but he conceded that the prosecution had enough evidence to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Circuit Judge Jon A. Cunningham, who also had been on the bench for the trial, presided over the hearing. Johnson, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled at his wrists and ankles, was represented by attorney Eric Selig, an attorney from law firm Rosenblum Schwartz and Fry.
During the previous trial, he was represented by a public defender. Selig said that family and friends of Johnson raised funds and he was recommended by American Civil Liberties Union attorney Tony Rothert in 2016.
“It’s been a long way to get to this point in the trial,” Judge Cunningham said to Johnson at the end of the hearing, “And I wish you well as you go forward in life.”
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors recommended the sentence totaling 10 years. The deal was the same one prosecutors offered to Johnson before the case went to trial, Assistant Prosecutor Phil Groenweghe said in court. Groenweghe said the plea deal spared victims the stress of having to testify again, while still delivering justice.
“We believed [10 years] was a fair offering to begin with.” He said “Our job is to do justice, not just to get the maximum amount of time possible.”
None of the victims in the case were present at the hearing. One of the victims contracted HIV after having sex with Johnson, according to court testimony.
Johnson has been incarcerated since he was arrested from class at Lindenwood in October 2013. With credit for time served, and parole guidelines on the offenses, Johnson could be released “within months,” said St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar.
Johnson was arrested by detectives with the St. Charles Police Department after a man known only by the initials DTL claimed to police that Johnson infected him with HIV. More victims later pressed charges, and police uncovered a laptop containing videos of Johnson having sex with multiple partners in his Lindenwood dorm.
According to medical reports, Johnson was diagnosed with HIV at the student health center on Jan. 7, 2013, as well as previously in his home state of Indiana.
The story about Johnson’s trial made national headlines and ignited a controversy about HIV disclosure laws, which some groups feel are outdated and harsh because of medical advances in treating HIV.