Judge tosses California HIV infection case

BY Advocate.com Editors

December 12 2003 12:00 AM ET

A San Francisco superior court judge on Tuesday dismissed a criminal case against a gay former city health commissioner accused of deliberately infecting sex partners with HIV, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Judge Kay Tsenin ruled that there was not enough evidence that Ronald Gene Hill, who served as a city health commissioner from 1997 to 2000, intentionally tried to infect anyone with the virus. California's HIV exposure law makes it a crime only to deliberately infect someone with HIV. Two of Hill's sex partners had testified before a grand jury that they had asked Hill if he was HIV-positive and that Hill repeatedly lied and said he was not. Both men are now HIV-positive. Hill's attorney argued that even if Hill lied about his having HIV, it still did not meet the state law's specification that it is illegal only to intentionally seek to infect someone with the virus.

Tsenin, in the state's first-ever review of the 1998 HIV transmission law, ruled that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove Hill's intentions and dismissed the grand jury indictment against the former health commissioner. Prosecutors have not decided whether they will appeal Tsenin's decision or will refile the case.

Thomas Lister, one of the men who says he was infected with HIV by Hill, said he hopes the case will lead to changes in the state's HIV exposure law to allow those who lie about their serostatus to be punished. "It's a law that is not working, and we need to change that," he told the Chronicle.

In March 2002 a San Francisco judge imposed a $5 million default judgment against Hill to be awarded to Lister in a civil suit stemming from the HIV transmission. Baron Drexel, Lister's attorney in the civil suit, said Lister had been dating the former health commissioner for about five months and that the couple was taking a cruise in July 2000 when he discovered medical records indicating Hill was taking anti-HIV drugs. The couple earlier had discussed HIV and both agreed to an HIV antibody test prior to sex, said Drexel. Hill told Lister he had tested negative for HIV infection. After the trip Lister took another HIV test and learned that he was infected. He sued Hill in January 2001. Hill disappeared during the civil trial, and Lister never received any money from the judgment.

Tags: Health

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