In 2015, Michael Johnson, also known as Tiger Mandingo in the media, was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a homophobic jury for allegedly not disclosing his HIV status to sexual partners. Now, he’s being released 25 years short of his maximum possible prison stint.
Johnson was a wrestler and student at Lindenwood University in Missouri. In 2013, he was accused of “recklessly infecting” multiple male partners with the HIV virus. His recent exoneration comes after the revelations that the jury during his trial was stacked with white heterosexuals, many of whom admitted they believed homosexuality was a sin.
An appeals court subsequently ruled his original trial was “fundamentally unfair” and tainted with racism, homophobia, and a prosecuting attorney insistent on getting a harsher sentence than many who commit murder receive.
The conviction reversal reinforces the claims of activists who have long claimed the United States’ HIV criminalization laws have ignored long-term medical science and fail to actually reduce infection rates. The legal system, according to statistics, also disproportionately punishes Black and brown communities.
The American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have condemned laws criminalizing HIV.
Michael Johnson’s case is reportedly having an effect on legislation in Missouri. Currently, House Bill 167 has been proposed and would reduce the punishment for failing to disclose one’s HIV status from a felony to a misdemeanor. It would also take into consideration whether a person was taking medication or used a condom during sex.
Johnson hopes that if there’s anything good that can come from his experience, it’s that the state will update its laws so a case like his doesn’t happen again.
“Maybe my trial did happen in some way to motivate some change,” he told reporters after exiting the Boonville Correctional Center on Tuesday (July 9). “It’s good I had the support of everyone who wrote me letters. There are times when you get down, and it helps that people knew why I was fighting the system.”
Watch the video below of Michael Johnson reuniting with one of his friends.