November 5, 2004 in City

Man convicted of exposing woman to HIV dies

Associated Press
 

VANCOUVER, Wash. – A man whose conviction on a charge of exposing a woman to HIV through unprotected sex led to a change in state law has died at age 45.

Randall Louis Ferguson of Camas, accused of deliberately exposing dozens of people to the virus, including two former wives and three other people who died of AIDS, died Sunday at Deaconess Medical Center.

The cause of death was not available because no autopsy was performed and a death certificate had not been filed with Spokane County officials, The Columbian of Vancouver reported.

Ferguson was sent to the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane after he was sentenced in April to five years in prison for drug possession in Kitsap County.

Ferguson’s mother, Carol, would not comment Wednesday, citing “distressing” coverage of his HIV assault trial eight years ago.

“We’re keeping everything pretty quiet,” she said.

Ferguson was convicted in 1996 of second-degree assault involving a 28-year-old woman in Clark County after evidence showed he removed a condom during sex two years earlier. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Authorities expressed frustration over being unable to file additional charges, including homicide for deaths resulting from AIDS, in cases of HIV exposure that occurred before expiration of a three-year, one-day statute of limitations.

In 1997 the Legislature boosted the offense of deliberate exposure to HIV to first-degree assault, punishable by up to life in prison, and removed the statute of limitations in such cases.

That change was not retroactive, however, and in 2001 the state Supreme Court held Ferguson’s sentence was excessive. It was subsequently shortened to five years, 10 months.

At that time his lawyer said he had gotten medication and described him as healthy.

Ferguson came under scrutiny after the late Clark County Coroner Arch Hamilton performed autopsies on three women who had slept with him and died of AIDS.

After a 21-month investigation, Camas police reported that at least 50 people had been exposed to HIV by Ferguson through unprotected sex or sharing drug needles.

Ferguson, a self-described drug dealer, said he was infected in 1988, developed AIDS two years later and knowingly exposed others for at least three years. By the time of his first sentencing, five people he was believed to have infected had died of AIDS.

His death “closes the book on a real difficult case,” Camas Police Chief Donald E. Chaney said. “It was a challenging case, both emotionally and factwise.”

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