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Thursday 17 September 2009

US: Gay Iowa man who faced 25 years for HIV exposure released from jail (updated)

Update: 17th September. Nick Rhoades was interviewed by Lynda Waddington in the Iowa Independent. He was released last Friday (11th) following a reconsideration hearing that had been allowed by District Court Judge Bradley Harris during Mr Rhoades' sentencing.

He is courteous and remorseful to the complainant in his case.

“There is no denying the fact that there was a victim involved and that [this] derailed his life for several months of uncertainty,” said Rhoades, referencing the consensual encounter he had with another man in early summer 2008 that led to his ultimate conviction.

“It’s something that I think anyone who is infected has been through. It’s frightening — not only for him, but for his family and friends. It disrupts everything in your life while you are going through that time of just not knowing. It can be terrifying. I know what it was like, and I never would have wished it on anyone else. So, I do understand exactly why he would feel the way that he did and does.”

But he also questions the 25 year sentence handed down four months ago that gave him "a taste of prison".
“When compared to other crimes and other laws on the books, it seems [my sentence was] a stiff penalty — especially considering the fact that it wasn’t considered a violent crime, that it was a consensual situation between two adults and that there was no infection [of the victim] showing up to this day,” he said. “It does seem that 25 years is excessive to me.”
He also says that although he has been humiliated by his HIV status being plastered all over the media, it is also somewhat liberating.
“It is the most stigmatized medical condition that I can think of,” said Rhoades, adding how humiliating it was for his status to be “strewn across the media” and become fodder for the gossip mill....“In some ways this has been liberating,” Rhoades said, indicating that before the court case he had only openly shared such private portions of his life with family and close friends. “I’m not at all proud and I do take responsibility for my own actions and mistakes. But there is no denying that it is all out there now.”
Original post: Sept 16th. Breaking news. An HIV advocate working to release Nick Rhoades, 34, from prison after he was sentenced in May to 25 years for HIV exposure following a one-night stand with another man, has just informed me that Mr Rhoades is out of jail!

The advocate, Donald Baxter, tells me in an email:
We wrote letters to the judge and something must have clicked—his “victim” wasn’t even allowed to give a victim’s impact statement. Nick still has a long hard row—five years probation, sex offender registry, unsure career future/path. But at least he’s not stuck in jail for 25 years.
Mr Baxter was co-incidentally featured in the Iowa Independent yesterday, arguing against Iowa's draconian HIV-specific laws.

“I think the law we have here is a sledgehammer that is mostly looking for a thumbtack. I think the latest thumbtack was Nick Rhoades,” Baxter said in reference to a Black Hawk County case earlier this year where a 34-year-old man was sentenced to 25 years in prison following a one-time consensual encounter that did not result in transmission.

“I get no impression from him other than the fact that he is probably a 34-year-old man who is not a paragon of responsibility. He obviously has had some substance abuse issue, which is actually pretty common in the gay community. He is not a criminal, and his sentence angers me on a couple of fronts. He’s probably never transmitted HIV to anybody, let alone the person who made this complaint against him. As a taxpayer in the state of Iowa I also realize that we are probably spending between $65,000 and $70,000 per year to keep him behind bars. That pisses me off. That would piss me off if I weren’t HIV positive.”

I'll update again with more details when I get them.

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