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Sentenced Under ‘Unfair’ HIV Law, Michael Johnson Is Free

Michael Johnson released from prison after HIV conviction.

“Leaving prison is such a great feeling.”

Michael Johnson, the man sentenced to more than 30 years in prison for not disclosing his HIV status to sexual partners, has been released from incarceration after serving five years of his sentence.

Reporting for BuzzFeed News, journalist and academic Steven Thrasher -- who has been covering this case for more than half a decade -- writes that Johnson is happy to be out.

"I feel great," Johnson told Thrasher on Tuesday with a "big smile" on his face. "Leaving prison is such a great feeling."

Johnson, often referred to as "Tiger Mandingo" after an online pseudonym he used to use, was arrested in 2013 for "recklessly" transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus to two men and exposing four others to the virus, which are both criminalized under Missouri state law.

Following a "racially charged" trial -- Johnson is Black, while four of the six men in question are white -- Johnson was convicted on one count of HIV transmission and four counts of exposure and sentenced to 30.5 years in prison, which, Thrasher notes, is longer than the state's average sentence for second-degree murder.

Thankfully, an appeals court overturned his conviction, condemning the original trial as "fundamentally unfair." However, HIV criminalization laws like the one that sent Johnson to prison still exist in many states across the country, disproportionately targeting Black people and sex workers with "outdated" science around exposure and transmission. Such laws aren't just backwards, Thrasher writes, they're actively harmful, possibly even resulting "in higher rates of transmission."

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