An appeals court on Tuesday ordered a new trial for an ex-Lindenwood University wrestler convicted last year of recklessly infecting a sex partner with HIV and risking the infection of four others.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled that the judge overseeing the trial of Michael L. Johnson erred by admitting as evidence recordings of telephone calls Johnson made from jail which weren't disclosed to defense attorneys until the morning of the first day of the trial.
Johnson was sentenced in July 2015 to 30 years in prison by the trial judge - St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham - after a jury found him guilty of five felony charges.
Prosecutors said Johnson didn't tell the sex partners that he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The trial included testimony from experts in infectious diseases and the men who had unprotected sex with him.
The ruling overturning the conviction was issued by a three-judge panel of the appeals court, which is based in downtown St. Louis.
The panel in its ruling said because it reversed the decision on the telephone call issue, it did not consider another argument made by Johnson's attorneys: that his sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crime. They contended that the sentence violated a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Johnson's case had attracted national news coverage because some gay rights advocates and legal reform groups say HIV criminalization is outdated, in part because of advances in treatment for the disease.
Prosecutors had said Johnson deserved severe punishment. They said when his sex partners asked if he had HIV, he had lied and said he was disease-free.
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 was expelled from Lindenwood after he was charged in the case, which concerned incidents in 2013. Johnson originally is from Indiana, where he was a state wrestling champion in 2010.
Before Lindenwood, he wrestled at Lincoln College in Illinois and was a junior college all-American and national champion there.