A judge in Victoria, Australia said that an HIV-positive grandfather from Melbourne preyed on “vulnerable” gay men when he tried to infect them with the virus.
Michael Neal, 50, was convicted in July of fifteen charges including attempting to infect a person with HIV, rape, reckless conduct endangering a person and procuring sex by fraud.
During his trial, the court heard how Neal picked up his lover from the doctor in December 2002 and was confronted about his HIV positive status.
“I said, ‘I can’t understand how I could have returned a positive result’, because (Neal) was the only one I’d bare-backed with,” the man told the court.
He claimed that Neal had then said: “It’s better to get it from someone you know out of love than a stranger and to not know.”
After a police investigation, Neal was arrested and charged with numerous crimes including two counts of intentionally infecting a person with HIV.
The six-week trial which ended with a mixed verdict, found Neal not guilty on two counts of deliberately infecting a person with HIV but guilty on fifteen other counts.
The case shone a spotlight on the State Government’s approach to monitoring and containing the spread of HIV and ultimately led to the sacking of Robert Hall, Victoria’s chief health officer.
During the trial, prosecutor Mark Rochford said Neal had set out to infect as many people as possible with HIV to serve his own needs and fulfil his desire to have unprotected sex.
He said that Neal also told a number of his sexual partners that he wanted to make others HIV positive so that he could increase the amount of people he could have unsafe sex with.
Some of the people he told made complaints to the Department of Health and a file on Neal was opened in 2001.
By then Neal had already begun attempting to infect his victims with HIV and visits from State Government officials warning him to practice safe sex made little impression.
A series of written warnings from the health department also failed to curb his behaviour.
Between November 2001 and 7th April 2006, the department served Neal with three letters and four orders issued under section 121 of the Health Act. But Neal continued to have unprotected sex.
Throughout the trial, Neal’s counsel, George Georgiou, maintained that Neal genuinely did not believe he was able to pass on the HIV virus because of his undetectable viral load, the amount of HIV in the bloodstream.
He said that Neal had not really wanted to infect others and was simply engaging in a “sick fantasy” when he spoke of his “pos pigs” or made comments to sexual partners such as “I’ve made 75 people pos”.
During the pre-sentence hearing Mr Georgiou said risky sexual behaviour among gay men was commonplace.
“It is clear from all that has been said and done in this trial that in the particular sub-culture of which Neal was a member, risky sexual behaviour was a prominent feature,” he said.
He went through some of the charges on which Neal was convicted, disputing parts of the evidence, drawing a rebuke from Judge David Parsons.
“What is the point of saying that these people indulged in risky behaviour, that somehow they’re at fault?” he said.
“The point is that he should not try and infect them with HIV.
“In a sense he knows that he is preying on people that are even more vulnerable.”
Judge Parsons said he had “little sympathy” for Mr Georgiou’s reasoning.
Neal faces up to 25 years in jail and had his sentence hearing before Judge David Parsons postponed until 9th December.