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Former Lindenwood wrestler free after appeals court calls HIV exposure trial 'fundamentally unfair'

He says after six years behind bars, he's eager to start advocating for HIV criminal justice reform around the country.

BOONVILLE, Mo. — The first person in Missouri to be charged and convicted of exposing sex partners to HIV is now a free man.

Michael Johnson, a former Lindenwood University wrestler, was sentenced to 30 years behind bars back in 2015.

After six years, he's a free man. On Tuesday, Johnson walked out of prison in Boonville, Missouri.

His release comes after an appeals court called the original trial "fundamentally unfair."

On Tuesday, Johnson was headed back to his hometown in Indiana.

He says after six years behind bars, he's eager to start advocating for HIV criminal justice reform around the country.

Johnson was sentenced to 30 years in prison for transmitting HIV to one person, then exposing or trying to expose several others to the virus. He always claimed he told his partners about his HIV status.

In 2016, his conviction was overturned because the courts found prosecutors didn't give Johnson a fair opportunity to prepare his defense.

Johnson then accepted a 10-year plea deal. Now after serving a portion of that sentence, he is a free man.

Johnson's friend and former international wrestler Akil Patterson spoke to 5 On Your Side by phone Tuesday afternoon with Johnson by his side. He said they're working to get HIV transmission laws off the books around the country because HIV is a treatable disease. And these laws create an unjust stigma.

“When the state is turning over a citizen's medical records, it does make them not want to get tested. It puts a fear and a stigma around HIV,” said Patterson, who also works with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “But let's be clear: HIV is preventable and treatable, there are opportunities all over the place not to contract the virus.”

Johnson said he's looking forward to going back to school. He also credits former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander and other HIV activists and advocates from all over the world for fighting for his release.

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