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Wednesday 8 October 2008

US: Mississippi woman gets 10 years, nine suspended, for HIV exposure

A 28 year-old woman from Mississippi has been sentenced to a year's house arrest with a further nine years suspended after pleading guilty to HIV exposure. I first reported what appears to be Mississippi's first criminal HIV exposure case back in May.

The complainant was her 36 year-old husband, whom she wed in 2003 without disclosing that she had tested HIV-positive when she was 17. The moment he discovered her status, he went to the police, and he is also suing her for divorce. Neither he, nor their 5 year-old child, is HIV-positive.

There were 49 comments on the story published on the website of her local paper, The Clarion-Ledger, including several from the man who claims to be the complainant. To get an idea of his mindset, this is how the article closes:

When asked does he think justice has been served, [the complainant] said, "The way I look at it, her justice is coming later."
Disturbing, indeed.

Wife gets house arrest in HIV case
Flora woman didn't tell husband she carried virus
Nicklaus Lovelady
October 7, 2008

A Flora woman will spend one year under house arrest for knowingly exposing her husband to HIV.

Shala Singleton Howell was sentenced in Madison County Circuit Court on Friday to 10 years in prison with nine suspended after pleading guilty to knowingly exposing her husband to the deadly virus which causes AIDS.

Prosecutors said Howell, 28, knew she carried HIV since 1997, but never told her husband, Shannon Howell of Flora, whom she married in 2003.

Shannon Howell, 36, and the couple's 5-year-old son have tested negative for the virus.

"We handled this case like any other as it relates to a plea bargaining," Madison-Rankin District Attorney Michael Guest said. "If she had not entered a guilty plea, we were ready to start the trial. We would have called on the husband and doctors to prove the state's case.

"The trial, which was set to begin today, would have been the first known criminal case in the state involving exposure to HIV since Mississippi's law prohibiting exposure went into effect in 2004.

Most states have laws prohibiting willfully exposing someone to HIV, which is passed on most commonly through unprotected sexual activity, injected drug use or from mother to child during birth or breastfeeding.

Guest said the nine years of suspended jail time was something both sides agreed upon. Ten years is the maximum prison sentence.

Shannon and Shala Howell are getting a divorce and are in a custody battle over their son.

"This has been tough on my whole family. We treated Shala like she was family, now everyone feels betrayed," Shannon Howell said Monday. "She has yet to show any remorse or apologize for what she has put us through."

Chokwe Lumumba, Shala Howell's attorney, was unavailable for comment.

In August 2007, Shannon Howell took his wife to the doctor, who informed him she had HIV. He confronted Shala Howell, and she admitted she had known for several years, and that's when he contacted authorities, Guest said.

In November 2007, Shannon Howell filed a petition asking for the couple's marriage to be annulled, court records show.

He is citing fraud as grounds for an annulment and "habitual cruel and inhumane treatment" as alternate grounds for a divorce.

He also is seeking permanent custody of their son and has asked for a temporary restraining order against his wife.

Shala Howell has filed a counter claim for divorce, denying her husband's accusations and alleging she was the one who suffered "habitual cruel and inhumane treatment."

The civil case is pending.

When asked does he think justice has been served, Shannon Howell said, "The way I look at it, her justice is coming later."



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