Exposing the 'Office of Medical and Scientific Justice' by Seth Kalichman

I posted earlier that AIDS Denialist and LA Private Investigator Clark Baker is focusing his attention on the US Military justice system. Baker’s storefront business, the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice (OMSJ) is paid by US taxpayers to bring AIDS denialists to the court. How are AIDS Denialists used as experts in legal cases?

Austria: Man accused of criminal HIV transmission fights “unconstitutional” forced blood test

A man in Austria is taking a case to the Constitutional Court that challenges the forcible testing of blood for HIV (as well as for use in phylogenetic analysis) that was legalised on 1 January 2012 through an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Code by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2011.  He is being supported by Rechtskomitee LAMBDA, whose president, Dr. Helmut Graupner, is also his defence counsel.

Full details of the case, and the problematic application of this law, from the Rechtskomitee LAMBDA press release issued today are included in full below (English version is slightly modified from the original release; German is the original.)

From 1 January 2012: Forced Hiv-Testing: Rechtskomitee LAMBDA supports case in the Constitutional Court

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2011 also amended the Criminal Procedure Code. It makes forcible HIV-testing legal as of 1 January 2012, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits taking blood by force. A case has already been brought to the Constitutional Court.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2011, passed by federal parliament in October 2011, legalizes taking blood by force in order to prove the misdemeanor of Endangering Human Beings by Transmittable Diseases (§ 178 Criminal Code). Up to now forcible blood taking (in the case of not intoxicated defendants) had been restricted to sexual felonies or other felonies incurring a maximum penalty of five years.

Since 1 January 2012 this changed, despite the fact that the Constitutional Court prohibits forcible blood withdrawals, as no one may be forced to supply his body as evidence against him. The first case challenging this new power of the criminal police has already been taken to the Constitutional Court.

The applicant, who has no criminal record, is HIV-positive and asks the Constitutional Court to strike down the amendment. The state prosecutor has started proceedings against him under  § 178 CC after another HIV-positive man had accused him of infecting him with HIV. Indeed the two men had sex with each other years ago, but in accordance with the safer sex rules propagated by the Ministry of Health and the AIDS Service organisations (oral sex without ejaculation into the mouth).

Blackmailed and reported to the police

The accuser, who has a massive criminal record of violent, drug and property offences, reported the defendant to the police years after the sexual contact and only after the man refused to fulfil his considerable financial demands. In addition the accuser admitted during his interrogation that he had unprotected sex with others, and he had searched for casual sex (“sexdates”) in the internet displaying in his profile the information “Safer Sex: Never”. Even more so the man, according to his own depositions, is addicted to heroin and thus had been exposed also to other ways of transmission than the sexual one.

The case against the accuser (for aggravated blackmail) has been dropped immediately after the interrogation of both men due to “conflicting depositions”. Not so the case against the defendant for endangering by transmittable diseases (which offence is fulfilled just by engaging in unsafe sex without the necessity of causing infection). Also in regard to this offence there were “conflicting depositions” but the prosecutor wanted a blood test (for phylogenetic analysis).

Potential for conviction of innocents

A phylogenetic analysis however cannot prove an infection. And phylogenetic analyses bear the risk of false results and misinterpretation at the expense of a defendant. There are no standards (guidelines) so far for such analyses in forensic context and its results unfortunately again and again are misunderstood and misinterpreted by the courts. UNAIDS and the EU-Fundamental Rights Agency for years have been highlighting this.

So the man did not agree to blood withdrawal from him as he fears, because he is innocent, to be wrongfully convicted on the basis of such a blood test. Since 1 January he now is facing the danger of forced blood taking at any time. Therefore he has addressed the Constitutional Court.
  
“It is incredible that the governing coalition passed this unconstitutional law,” says president of Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL) and defence counsel of the man, Dr. Helmut Graupner, “As too often we again have to hope for the Constitutional Court”.

Seit 1.1.2012: Zwangs-Hiv-Tests: Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL) unterstützt Antrag an den Verfassungsgerichtshof

Das Terrorismuspräventionsgesetz bringt auch eine Novelle der Strafprozessordnung. Seit 1.1.2012 sind gewaltsame Blutabnahmen bei Verdacht einer Ansteckung mit Hiv zulässig, obwohl die Verfassung zwangsweise Blutabnahmen verbietet. Eine Beschwerde liegt bereits beim Verfassungsgerichtshof.

Mit dem im Oktober 2011 verabschiedeten Terrorismuspräventionsgesetz wurden Zwangsblutabnahmen bei Verdacht des Vergehens der Gefährdung von Menschen durch übertragbare Krankheiten (§ 178 Strafgesetzbuch) erlaubt. Bisher waren zwangsweise Blutabnahmen (bei nicht berauschten TäterInnen) nur bei Verdacht auf ein Sexualverbrechen oder auf ein (anderes) Verbrechen zulässig, das mit mehr als 5 Jahren Freiheitsstrafe bedroht ist.

Das ist seit 1. Jänner anders, obwohl der Verfassungsgerichtshof zwangsweise Blutabnahmen verbietet, weil niemand gezwungen werden darf, seinen Körper als Beweismittel gegen sich selbst zur Verfügung zu stellen. Die erste Beschwerde gegen die neue Befugnis der Kriminalpolizei liegt bereits beim Verfassungsgerichthof.

Der unbescholtene Antragsteller ist Hiv-positiv und beantragt die Aufhebung der Gesetzesnovelle. Die Staatsanwaltschaft (StA) hat gegen ihn ein Ermittlungsverfahren wegen des Verdachts gem. § 178 StGB eingeleitet, weil ihn ein anderer Hiv-positiver Mann beschuldigt, ihn mit Hiv angesteckt zu haben. Tatsächlich hatte der Mann mit diesem anderen Mann vor Jahren einvernehmlichen sexuellen Kontakt, jedoch entsprechend den vom Gesundheitsministerium und den Aids-Hilfen propagierten Safer Sex Regeln, also mit Sexualpraktiken, bei denen eine Ansteckung nicht möglich ist (Oralverkehr ohne Ejakulation in den Mund).

Erpresst und angezeigt

Der mehrfach wegen Gewalt-, Suchtgift- und Vermögensdelikten vorbestrafte Anschuldiger hat die Anzeige, in der er ungeschützten passiven Analverkehr behauptete, erst Jahre nach dem sexuellen Kontakt erstattet und erst nachdem der Beschuldigte nicht bereit war, seine erheblichen finanziellen Forderungen zu erfüllen. Zudem hat er selbst in seiner Einvernahme angegeben, anderweitig ungeschützte sexuelle Kontakte gehabt zu haben und hatte er im Internet flüchtige sexuelle Kontakte („Sexdates“) gesucht mit einem Profil, auf dem angegeben war: „Safer Sex: Niemals“.  Darüber hinaus ist dieser Mann nach seinen eigenen Angaben heroinsüchtig, und war daher, außer dem sexuellen noch anderen Übertragungswegen für eine Hiv-Infektion ausgesetzt.

Das gegen den Anschuldiger (wegen des Verdachts der schweren Erpressung) eingeleitete Strafverfahren wurde „wegen der widerstreitenden Aussagen“ sogleich nach Einvernahme der beiden Männer eingestellt. Nicht jedoch das Verfahren gegen den Beschuldigten wegen des Verdachts der Gefährdung durch übertragbare Krankheiten (wofür bereits unsafer Sex ausreicht, ohne dass es zu einer Ansteckung gekommen ist). Auch hier bestanden widerstreitende Aussagen, jedoch begehrte der Staatsanwalt eine Blutuntersuchung (phylogenetische Untersuchung).

Gefahr der Verurteilung Unschuldiger

Eine phylogenetische Untersuchung kann aber eine Ansteckung nicht beweisen. Und phylogenetische Untersuchungen bergen das Risiko falscher Ergebnisse und von Fehlinterpretationen zu Lasten des Beschuldigten Es gibt (noch) keine Standards (Richtlinien) für die Durchführung dieser Analysen zu gerichtlichen Zwecken und ihre Ergebnisse werden von Gerichten leider immer wieder missverstanden und fehlinterpretiert. Darauf weisen UNAIDS und die EU-Grundrechteagentur seit Jahren hin.

Der Mann hat daher einer Blutabnahme nicht zugestimmt, weil er befürchten muss, auf Grund der Testergebnisse unschuldig verurteilt zu werden. Seit 1. Jänner muss er nun jederzeit die gewaltsame Abnahme einer Blutprobe fürchten und hat sich daher an den Verfassungsgerichtshof gewandt.

„Es ist unglaublich, dass die Regierungsparteien, gegen die Opposition, diese verfassungswidrige Regelung beschlossen haben“, sagt der Präsident des RKL und Rechtsanwalt des Antragstellers Dr. Helmut Graupner, „Es bleibt, wie so oft, die Hoffnung auf den Verfassungsgerichtshof“.

New report explores implications of tests to estimate timing of HIV infection for criminal prosecutions

From UNAIDS front page today.

 

Feature Story: New report explores implications of tests to estimate timing of HIV infection for criminal prosecutions

The UK charity National AIDS Trust (NAT) launched a report on 4 August 2011, entitled Estimating the likelihood of recent HIV infection – implications for criminal prosecution, which explores the validity and meaning of the Recent Infection Testing Algorithm HIV tests, or RITA tests, within the context of criminal prosecutions of HIV transmission.

The report, primarily aimed at professionals working in the criminal justice system and HIV specialists who may be called on as expert witnesses in criminal HIV transmission cases, calls for caution about the potential use of RITA results to determine timing of HIV infection.

About RITA and its potential use in criminal law context

RITA tests estimate the likelihood that a person found to be HIV-positive has been infected recently, usually within the previous six months. To date, the United Kingdom is the only country reported to routinely return RITA results to newly diagnosed patients.

As criminal law in the UK allows for the prosecution of people for transmitting HIV to another person, the report underlines the importance that RITA tests and their limitations be fully understood and not misused in criminal proceedings. The report underlines that while there have been no reported instances of use of RITA results in courts to attempt to prove timing of HIV transmission and consequently the identity of the person who transmitted HIV, this may happen in the near future.

No test can conclusively state when an individual acquired HIV

“No scientific test is able to conclusively state when an individual acquired HIV,” said Dr Cate Hankins, Chief Scientific Adviser to UNAIDS. “It is important to be cautious, follow clear protocol, and understand the limitations of RITA results when delivering them to patients or using them within a criminal law context.”

According to the report, proving HIV transmission in the context of criminal law cases requires the use of a combination of scientific evidence, medical records and testimony to establish the facts, timing and direction of HIV transmission.

“Scientific advances such as RITA testing are extremely welcome when estimating the recency of HIV infection on a population level, especially as late diagnosis is a huge issue,” said Ms Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust. “However, it is crucial that the limitations of RITA tests are fully understood and are not used out of context, for example during criminal proceedings.”

As RITA tests are designed to work at the population level (based on averages) rather than at the individual level, taking into account significant rates of false RITA test results in individuals, the report draws the conclusion that RITA tests are not reliable as evidence of recent HIV infection for individuals in the context of criminal proceedings.

Better understanding of HIV science in the context of criminal law

The NAT report comes weeks ahead of an expert meeting on the scientific, medical, legal and human rights aspects of the criminalization of HIV transmission and exposure organized by UNAIDS in Geneva from 31 August to 2 September 2011.

The meeting will bring together leading scientists and medical experts on HIV together with legal and human rights experts. Participants will examine relevant scientific and legal evidence and concepts relating, among others, to harm, risk, intent and proof, and their conceptualization/application in the context of criminalization of HIV exposure and transmission.

The meeting is part of UNAIDS’ work towards halving the number of countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use, or homosexuality that block effective AIDS responses by 2015.

New Zealand: Charges dropped in criminal HIV transmission case

All charges against a Wellington man accused of not disclosing his HIV-positive status prior to unprotected sex with his female partner who subsequently tested HIV-positive have been dropped because police are unable to trace the complainant.

Not only did Justice Simon France drop the charges of “wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm” but also ordered that the man’s name be suppressed.

Jo Murdoch, a lawyer from the Public Defence Service, successfully argued in court that the man’s identifying particulars should be suppressed.

Justice Simon France said the issue became whether the man’s HIV status – a particularly private and sensitive medical fact – should be exposed when grave doubts had been raised about the alleged victim’s credibility.

The case did not have the public interest element of a person accused of having put multiple partners at risk or having risky casual sex. Also, the alleged crime was irrelevant to his employment and his contact with the public generally. Taken together the circumstances outweighed the usual principle that justice should be carried out publicly, Justice France said.

Details of the case are sketchy and come from a single story in today’s Dominion Post via Stuff.co.nz.

(Pdf of webpage here if link no longer works.)

Police said he did not tell his partner he had HIV, the couple had unprotected sex and she contracted the disease. The man said his partner of several years knew of his condition and that they always had protected sex.

Shortly before the trial was due, information came to light which, if true, would have affected a court’s view of her honesty. Police were unable to find her and thought she was hiding from them. They had wanted to check the information before expensive tests to see if the couple had the same strain of HIV.

The Crown offered no evidence against the man, resulting in a discharge which amounted to an acquittal.

Evidence: Claims that phylogenetic analysis can prove direction of transmission are unfounded, say experts

I’m reproducing this news article I wrote for aidsmap.com in case anyone hasn’t seen it, because it is a really important issue.  Claiming that phylogenetic analysis is so reliable as to be able to ‘prove’ who infected who in a criminal court case is reckless and somewhat self-serving.

A report from the United States published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims to show for the first time that direction of HIV transmission from one individual to another for use as evidence in criminal trials can reliably be established by phylogenetic analysis. However, international experts in phylogenetics who have acted as forensic advisors in criminal courts tell aidsmap.com that the report “draws unwarranted conclusions”.

The report, co-authored by Michael Metzker, associate professor at the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center and David Hillis, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Texas, details the phylogenetic analysis methodology used in two criminal HIV transmission cases in the United States, in Washington State in 2004 and Texas in 2009, respectively.

These cases were only the second and third times that phylogenetic analysis was used as evidence in a criminal prosecution in the United States, despite at least 350 convictions under HIV-specific and/or general criminal laws for HIV non-disclosure, alleged exposure and/or transmission since prosecutions began in the mid-1980s (CHLP, 2010). Of note, both of these cases involved allegations of multiple heterosexual transmissions from a single source. Such allegations are extremely rare in criminal cases.

Phylogenetic analysis requires the use of complex computational tools to create a hypothetical diagram (known as a phylogenetic tree) that estimates how closely related the samples of HIV taken from the complainant(s) and defendant are likely to be in comparison to other samples.

The report refers to several recent studies (including a 2008 study from Keele and colleagues) which suggest to the authors that a “significant genetic bottleneck” may occur during HIV transmission, and that at least three-quarters of infections may result from a single virus. It also notes that since HIV evolves rapidly following initial infection, this results in “increased diversity of HIV sequences within a newly infected individual.”

However, the report argues that if blood samples are taken from the accused and complainant(s) “shortly after a transmission event” the population of viral sequences in one individual would be expected to be more closely related to the population in the other(s) than other populations of viral sequences used for comparison. This is known as a “paraphyletic relationship.” The paper then suggests that “paraphyly provides support for the direction of transmission and, in a criminal case, could be used to identify the index case (i.e., source).”

In both cases, the investigators were blinded as to the identity of the accused and the complainants, which was only revealed in court once they had provided their report to the prosecution. Again, in both cases, the sample they identified as being the source of infection was that of the accused. It is unknown how much weight the judge and jury gave to the phylogenetic reports, but it is known that the prosecution provided a great deal of supporting evidence – including, in the Texas case, contact tracing and HIV testing of most of the complainants’ prior sexual partners – and that it was the totality of such evidence that led to guilty verdicts and lengthy prison sentences in both cases.

The paper and its assertions have been widely disseminated via a press release and several articles primarily aimed at the scientific community. Such articles include quotes from the investigators that suggest their methods are unquestionably sound and it was this evidence alone that led to the guilty verdicts. “This is the first case study to establish the direction of transmission,” Professor Metzker was quoted in an AFP story with the headline ‘ Lab detectives use science to nab HIV criminals’.

He asserted to the American Statesman that “[our analysis] provided sound scientific evidence of the direction of transmission, and from that we could identify the source.”  The article also quotes the main prosecutor in the Texas case, who characterises phylogenetic analysis as “good evidence”.  Of note, the defence attorney in the case is quoted as saying they were unable to find an expert to testify in court against the reliability of Hillis and Metzker’s findings.

“It made a lot of difference in trying the case because we couldn’t find an expert for our side,” he said.

However, Professor Metzker’s claims and the paper’s assertion that he and his colleagues have established that their methodology is both a new and reliable method of proving the direction of transmission has been questioned by several international experts contacted by aidsmap.com. All of the experts have served as witnesses in criminal trials outside of the United States.

These experts all agree that phylogenetic analysis remains an informed but sometimes imperfect estimate of the relationship between viruses. Although there are a variety of methods by which it is possible to increase the confidence that the samples are very closely related in comparison to other samples, there could never be complete confidence that the defendant infected the complainant(s) based on phylogenetic analysis alone.

Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a professor at Leuven Catholic University and Rega Institute in Belgium, has serious reservations regarding the paper’s assertions. “This paper draws unwarranted conclusions,” she tells aidsmap.com. “There is still the possibility that there is a missing link, a consecutive transmission with an intermediate missing link. I would only use such paraphyletic clustering to exclude a direction of transmission. The elimination of all other possible contacts is something to be done outside the phylogenetic analysis.”

Jan Albert, a professor at the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, tells aidsmap.com that “the study suggests, but does not prove, transmission between the examined persons. The main reason for the caveat is that the analyses do not exclude the existence of unsampled persons belonging to the same clusters. The paraphyly does not exclude this possibility. In light of this it is surprising that only 20 local controls were investigated in the Washington case and none in the Texas case.”

Thomas Leitner, staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States, tells aidsmap.com that the methodology described in the paper to test the hypothesis of direction of transmission is not, in fact, new, and that along with co-author Walter Fitch he published a paper outlining a similar methodology eleven years ago. (Leitner T, Fitch WM 1999) He adds that his research suggests that even when all persons involved in an alleged transmission chain are sampled, it may still be the case that the two closest samples in a phylogenetic tree are two individuals who may not have ever met.

Professor Vandamme is also lead author of a paper currently in press with The Lancet Infectious Diseases along with several authors including Professor Albert and Dr Anna Maria Geretti, of University College London Medical School, Royal Free Hospital, in London, which highlights the substantial risk of miscarriages of justice based on a flawed view of the science behind phylogenetic analysis. It concludes, in concurrence with a briefing paper co-authored by Professor Vandamme and Dr Geretti and published by NAM and NAT in 2007, that the only ‘safe’ use of phylogenetic analysis in criminal HIV transmission cases is to exonerate the accused.

A fuller discussion of how phylogenetic analysis and other evidence can – and cannot – be used to establish the fact of transmission from the accused to  complainant(s) in a criminal case can be found in the ‘Proof’ chapter of NAM’s new international resource, HIV and the criminal law.

References

Scaduto DI et al. Source identification in two criminal cases using phylogenetic analysis of HIV-1 DNA sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print November 15, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015673107, 2010.

Abecasis AB et al. Science in court: the myth of HIV ‘fingerprinting’. Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2010 (In Press).

Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) Ending and Defending Against HIV Criminalization: State and Federal Laws and Prosecutions, Vol.1, CHLP’s Positive Justice Project, First Edition, Fall 2010.

Leitner T, Fitch WM The phylogenetics of known transmission histories. Pp. 315-345 in K. A. Crandall. Molecular Evolution of HIV. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD 1999.

UK: HIV transmission case dropped against gay Doncaster man

A case against a gay man in Doncaster, in the north of England, who was accused of ‘recklessly’ transmitting HIV to two male complainants, has been dropped due to lack of evidence – apparently there had been no investigation of the previous sexual partners of the complainants who may have infected them.

I don’t have a lot of details about the case, which I first heard about in March 2009, and I would like to protect the identity of the accused who has obviously been through hell for at least 15 months.

What I do know is this: two men had complained to the police that they believed that they had been infected by the accused during separate dates. (I don’t know whether the complainants knew about each other before they went to the police, or after).

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) took their complainants seriously enough to prepare a ‘reckless grievous bodily harm’ prosecution under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. To prove the element of causation of such ‘grievious bodily harm’ (i.e. HIV transmission), the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that only the accused could have infected the complainant(s).

I’m reliably informed by the man’s defence lawyer, Khurram Arif, that the trial was meant to commence yesterday at Doncaster Crown Court. The defence had prepared a scientific report examining the likelihood that only the accused could have infected both complainants. The report highlighted that the complainants’ previous sexual partners may also have infected them and that phylogenetic analysis could not rule this out.

Yesterday, the prosecution consulted with its own scientific expert and conceded that since both complainants had previous sexual partners and the police did not investigate nor eliminate them as possible sources of infection, there was no case to answer. This is, in fact, what the CPS guidelines state.

This is one of several cases defended by Mr Arif, where a lack of attention to the detail of what scientific evidence can – and cannot – prove has led to the CPS dropping cases very late in the day. As Mr Arif notes in his email to me: “The prosecution, when making such allegations, have to prove that they have closed all the doors to the possible sources of infection. Again, in this case, they did not.”

The case highlights that in England & Wales, people accused of such ‘crimes’ should never plead guilty and should immediately contact an HIV organisation for advice in order to be put in touch with an expert defence lawywer, such as Mr Arif, who services legal aid clients through Christian Khan Solicitors and private clients through GSC Solicitors.

In addition, complainants need to be aware that making such accusations requires them to reveal their entire previous sexual history and to name all of their sexual partners since their last HIV-negative test. Only when they have all been contacted and tested for HIV can a prosecution actually reach trial.

US: Padieu case gets the 20/20 treatment; phylogenetic analysis totally misrepresented

The case of Philippe Padieu, the French-born Texan found guilty in May 2009 on six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 45 years for five counts and 25 years for the remaining count – all of which run concurrently – was featured last Friday night on US ABC TV’s tabloid-style news magazine, 20/20.

Five and half million viewers watched as Mr Padieu faced trial by media yet again. All six parts of the one hour show (actually 39 minutes minus commercials) are available to watch online.

Part 1: Women recall HIV criminal’s allure
Part 2: HIV diagnosis rocks women’s lives
Part 3: Women take matters into own hands
Part 4: HIV serial dater faces victims in court
Part 5: Man convicted of HIV crime speaks
Part 6: Women want case known to protect others

It’s basically sold as the story of a group of scorned women uniting to put Mr Padieu behind bars, summarised beautifully by the accompanying story on the ABC news website headlined, ‘How Women United to Stop HIV-Positive Man, Women’s Horror at Diagnosis Replaced With Mission: Stop Man From Infecting Others.’

There’s so much I could say about the show, which is something of a milestone in criminal HIV transmission reporting in the mainstream media, but I’m going to limit my comments about the very worrying misrepresentation of phylogenetic analysis as ‘proof’ that Mr Padieu was the source of all the women’s HIV infection. Perhaps blog readers could fill in the comments sections with insights and criticisms of their own about this programme.

[Update: Catherine Hanssens of The Center for HIV Law and Policy has some terrific comments and insights in her Sept 29th blog post.]

In Part 4 of the show, presenter/journalist Elizbeth Vargas says that it was Mr Padieu’s “own DNA” that proved he was guilty. But phylogenetic analysis is all about testing the genetics of HIV, not the individual. They then showed one of the US’s foremost experts in HIV forensics, Dr Michael L Metzker, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, who testified for the prosecution that Mr Padieu’s virus was extremely similar to that of the six women. Except here he says definitively that Mr Padieu was “the source” of the six women’s HIV. I’ve written about the limitations of phylogenetic analysis many times: the issues are summarised here.

In the final part of the show, we are introduced to ‘Lisa’ who dated Mr Padieu in 1997, and was diagnosed HIV-positive that same year. The show gives Dr Metzker a sample of Lisa’s blood and he says that “preliminary analysis” suggests that Mr Padieu was the source of all seven women’s HIV infection. The show concludes that Mr Padieu “gave Lisa HIV in 1997” and goes on to suggest, without a shred of evidence, that he had been diagnosed earlier than 2005 and knowingly infected Lisa and possibly hundreds of other women.

I’m extremely disappointed in Dr Metzker for totally misrepresenting what phlyogenetic analysis can prove. It is impossible to conclude, given the many limitations of phylogenetic analysis, that Mr Padieu infected Lisa in 1997. It is, in fact, just as possible that Lisa infected Mr Padieu.

I don’t expect 20/20 to explain the science (in fact, I expect them to get it wrong), but I do expect Dr Metzker, who is (was?) considered to be a respected scientist, to be less definitive about his conclusions. Maybe Dr Metzker would like to explain how he could be so sure – it would be very helpful to know if he has developed new, as yet unknown, techniques in phylogenetic analysis that can definitively pinpoint timing and direction of transmission.

US: Texan man found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for reckless HIV transmission

A Texas jury has found 53 year-old Philippe Padieu of Frisco, Texas, guilty of six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He is the sixteenth person with HIV in Texas to be successfully prosecuted for either HIV exposure or transmission since 1997.

Update: May 30th.

Original posting, from May 28th, below:

Mr Padieu was arrested in July 2007 after two women went to police after testing HIV-positive . The police investigation led to four further complainants.

The case has had widespread media coverage throughout the United States, highlighted in today’s Dallas Morning News story summarising the trial.

After five hours of deliberations, the [jury’s] guilty verdicts were read in a large ceremonial courtroom where the trial was moved to accommodate local and national TV crews covering the case, including ABC’s 20/20.

Prosecutors likened Mr Padieu to a “ticking time bomb, a lethal weapon.”

“It’s as if he took a gun and shot all of them,” prosecutor Lisa King said during closing arguments earlier in the day. “But a gunshot wound heals. In this case, he gave them a virus that causes a disease that may well kill them.”

[Assistant District Attorney Curtis] Howard said, Padieu is “a ticking time bomb, he’s a lethal weapon,” and he likened Padieu to Typhoid Mary. He told jurors that Padieu broke the law by knowingly, recklessly and intentionally having sex with multiple women, exposing them to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, without telling them.

His defence attorny, Bennie House, argued that Mr Padieu was in denial and that the six female complainants should have protected themselves knowing that unprotected sex can result in the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

“They asked Mr. Padieu if he was safe, he said yes,” said House. “He’s in denial.” He added, “Mr. Padieu is not a predator. … He likes sex…House said his client’s partners had a responsibility to practice safe sex. “They should have invoked a mantra – no glove, no love,” House said. “If that didn’t happen, they should walk out.”

Another of Mr Padieu’s defence lawyer, George A. Giles, argued – rather unsuccessfully given the many previous Texan convictions for HIV-positive bodily fluids being classed as deadly weapons, including Willy Campbell, who was sentenced to 35 years for spitting at a cop – that Texan law did not specifically say that his client had committed aggravated assault.

[He said that] what Padieu did does not constitute aggravated assault. He suggested that prosecutors go to Austin to lobby for changes in the law if they want to use the criminal code to address the practice of unsafe sex by someone with HIV. “When does he have to tell them or anybody he’s got a disease?” Giles said.

However, since the law in Texas is not HIV-specific, the bar was set much higher for the prosecution to prove that Mr Padieu actually infected the six women. They used one of the US’s foremost experts in HIV forensics, Dr Michael L Metzker, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, to testify that Mr Padieu’s virus was extremely similar to that of the six women, although he came to a conclusion that may not have been totally scientific.

The news website of NBC Dallas Fort/Worth reported:

He said he used a national database of HIV positive blood samples and compared the samples taken from Padieu and his six alleged victims. In what was called a blind study, Metzker never knew who each sample belonged to.

“I wanted anonymous samples,” he said. “I did not want to know the identity of any of the individuals, we treated them all equally, generated the data, generated the alignments.”

Metzker said Padieu is the source of his accusers’ infection.

“One sample stood out as the potential source of most, if not all, of the other samples,” he explained.

However, Padieu’s attorneys got Metzker to admit that the study reaches a conclusion, but cannot be called an absolute fact.

The defense is focusing on the fact that HIV can mutate and change over time.

Mr Padieu will be sentenced tomorrow (Friday May 29th). He faces sentencing that ranges from five to 99 years in prison on each of the six counts.