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Bill Increases Penalties For Spreading Hiv Intentionally Exposing Partner Could Mean A Life Sentence

Associated Press

The police detective who helped put Randall Ferguson away for 10 years for intentionally exposing a woman to the AIDS virus told a House committee on Wednesday that he supports a bill that would lock up similar assailants for life.

Ferguson “was almost unstoppable for seven years,” Camas police detective Mitch Lacke told the House Law and Justice Committee. Lacke said Ferguson once said “If they get it (AIDS), they deserve it.”

Ferguson was sentenced last year in Clark County for exposing a 28-year-old woman to HIV by removing a condom during sex. At the time of Ferguson’s trial, prosecutors said he had exposed more than 50 people to HIV. Five people, including two of his wives, have died.

Senate Bill 5044, which overwhelming passed the Senate last month, would allow a person who intentionally transmits, or exposes another to, the virus that causes AIDS to be charged with first-degree assault, instead of second-degree assault. First-degree assault is punishable by up to life in prison, while the lesser crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

“Rather than using a knife, gun or baseball bat, they use a communicable disease as a weapon,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. “This bill is about public safety.”

The bill also takes away the statute of limitations of three years and one day for the crime. No time limit should exist because it can take years for people to find out they have the virus, Benton said.

Lacke said prosecutors couldn’t charge Ferguson with murder because the deaths related to him were discovered too late.

The bill would affect few people, said Tom Milne, executive director of the health district that includes Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties. He said in the past nine years, only one person has refused to change his behavior, and that was Ferguson.

Those opposed to the measure were against a provision that requires public health officers to report clients who are HIV-positive or have AIDS to local police if the clients engage in risky behavior despite a warnings.

“Individuals with HIV infection will be less likely to voluntarily disclose their status for fear of future reprisals and criminal charges, and may delay or forego seeking medical treatment in an effort to guarantee their confidentiality,” read a letter from Terry Stone and Steven Johnson from the Northwest AIDS Foundation.

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