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Man Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Not Telling Sex Partners He’s HIV Positive Gets Out 25 Years Early

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Who Is Tiger Mandingo? New Details On The Man Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Not Telling Sex Partners He’s HIV Positive

“Tiger Mandingo” is Michael Johnson’s online name. He’s a onetime college wrestler who was arrested back in October of 2013 for knowingly transmitting HIV to two men and exposing four others. Since four of the six men were white, his trial was incredibly racially charged, leading to an unprecedented sentence of 30.5 years. Today he was released, 25 years early, after an appeals court deemed his original trial “fundamentally unfair.”  

Who is Tiger Mandingo, and what else is there to know about the situation?

1. He was convicted despite the absence of genetic fingerprinting to connect him to the other men’s HIV strains.

He was only convicted of one of the two transmission cases, but also of all four of the exposure cases. His 30.5-year sentence was longer than the Missouri state average for second-degree murder. Prosecutors waited until the last moment to disclose their evidence, so in December of 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District overturned his conviction. To avoid another trial, Johnson took a no-contest Alford plea deal (a guilty plea and accepting of punishment by a defendant who claims to be innocent). Later, he was granted suspended parole.

2. Studies show that the criminalization of HIV transmission does not decrease the rate of infection.

In 2013, the year of Mandingo’s arrest, medical scholars researched the effectiveness of laws that criminalize knowing exposure to or transmission of HIV in reducing HIV incidence. The authors of this research (which doesn’t necessarily represent the official views of the NIMH or the National Institutes of Health) claim that these laws may actually be undermining prevention efforts by the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

This argument is relevant if your only goal is to reduce incidence. I’m not sure these medical scholars understand that the main point of these laws is actually to hold people accountable for their actions that affect the health and wellbeing of others.

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3. Mandingo’s case brought to light the role of race in the politics of HIV.

According to Buzzfeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published research in 2016 projecting that if current trends continue, 1 in every 2 black men who have sex with men in America would become HIV positive in their lifetimes despite having “fewer partners and lower rates of recreational drug use than other gay men.” Globally, a disproportionate number of the roughly one million people a year who die of AIDS are black

4. His conviction also led to significant political change.

In 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that reduced knowing exposure of HIV to a misdemeanor. In North Carolina in 2018, activists successfully lobbied to bring the state’s HIV laws in line with scientific findings to reflect, for one example, the scientific fact that properly medicated individuals with HIV cannot transmit the virus. Even in Missouri, where Johnson was convicted, the HIV Justice Coalition introduced a bill called HB167 to do the same thing California’s bill did in 2017. Even though the bill didn’t pass, it garnered the support of Timothy Lohmar, the prosecuting attorney whose office had tried Johnson and asked the jury for a life sentence.

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Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health.