Professor: HIV case could set precedent

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The murder indictment against a Natchez man with HIV accused of knowingly infecting women with the virus could have implications beyond Natchez and Mississippi, a law professor said.

&uot;In Mississippi, no, there has never been a charge like this I know of,&uot; said Philip W. Broadhead, clinical professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Broadhead, a public defender, said there are only a few similar cases at all &045; two in Canada and one each in Texas, Maryland and Illinois.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;Anytime you deal with something new Š it’s something novel and new and different,&uot; Broadhead said.

Sean Reynald White, 34, of 1-D Lincoln Ave., was indicted on aggravated assault charges in June, accused of knowingly and intentionally infecting two women with HIV. After one of the women died, the grand jury last week upgraded one of the charges to murder.

Complaints were made to the Natchez Police Department, which brought the case to the district attorney. Together, they decided to take it to the grand jury.

White is being charged under part 1b of the statute for homicide and murder. The statute is broad, Broadhead said, and defines the murder as an act &uot;eminently dangerous to others&uot; and one &uot;without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.&uot;

&uot;When the Legislature enacted this statute, it made the intention not necessary to be proved, as long as the state proves this is an act that is eminently dangerous to a depraved heart,&uot; Broadhead said.

That means the prosecution &045; District Attorney Ronnie Harper, in this case &045; will not have to prove premeditation. Harper said this part of the statute is commonly called reckless endangerment.

Broadhead’s example of a homicide that would typically be charged under this part of the statute is one in which a person drives a car into a crowd, creating an inherently dangerous situation without care if someone gets killed.

&uot;And I can see how the state of Mississippi would use this statute to prove someone knew they had AIDS and engaged in a sexual act with someone else with that knowledge,&uot; Broadhead said.

&uot;They would have to prove through independent evidence the person knew they had AIDS. I don’t know how you do that. Proving what is in someone’s mind is always difficult.&uot;

Harper said he presented the facts of the case to the grand jury, and the case complied with the wording of the statute.

Harper cannot talk about the facts of the case until the trial, which is set for March.

Harper has not tried a case like this before but said, &uot;I’m surprised nothing has happened like this before.&uot;

Any time a person has specialized knowledge, such as a black belt in karate, that person’s body can be determined a weapon in violent crimes.

&uot;There have been several cases that have resulted in murder convictions where someone was hit in the heart,&uot; Broadhead said.

&uot;The body can be a weapon but in (White’s) case, we are talking about a whole new ballgame.&uot;

The question is, Broadhead said, can a person with a disease be a weapon?

&uot;This is a case of first impression, and there have not been but a handful in the country,&uot; said Broadhead, who called the case &uot;huge and tremendous.&uot;

If there is a conviction, Broadhead and Harper said they have no doubt the case will go the Mississippi Supreme Court.

&uot;It may be a question that needs to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,&uot; Broadhead said, since the justices have not heard such a case.

And the Natchez case will likely have implications far beyond Mississippi, he said.

&uot;This is a case that will make new law,&uot; Broadhead said.

&uot;It will probably guide other prosecutors in other counties in the state. Other district attorneys will be interested in this case.&uot;