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Cleveland Priest Will Be Tried Under HIV Criminalization Law

By Lynn De La Cruz

A judge in Cleveland has ruled that the trial of a priest charged under an HIV criminalization law can go forward, despite the defense attorney's arguments that the law is based on outdated medical information.

Reverend James McGonegal, former pastor of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, is charged with a felony for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover park ranger last October without telling his prospective partner that he is HIV-positive. McGonegal’s defense attorney, Henry Hilow, contended last week in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that the case should be dismissed because advances in HIV treatment since the law was passed in 1996 make the chance of transmission negligible.

However, Judge Stuart Friedman issued an opinion Monday that the law is valid and Hilow's request for dismissal groundless, reports Cleveland's Plain Dealer. Hilow pledged to continue to seek dismissal of the charge against his client during the trial, set to begin September 9.

If McGonegal were HIV-negative, the charge would be only a misdemeanor.  “My client is being charged with a felony for the mere presence of HIV,” Hilow said in court last week.

Friedman made the ruling despite having voiced doubts about the law himself. In last week's proceedings, he quoted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that oral sex with an HIV-positive person had resulted in transmission of HIV in less than four of 10,000 cases. Hilow had cited statistics noting the chance of HIV transmission was less than 1 percent. McGonegal is on antiretroviral treatment, which suppresses the virus and makes it more difficult to transmit.

However, Assistant County Prosecutor Ed Fadel said the law does not take into account the likelihood of transmission and that Hilow's argument was based on “speculation and hypotheticals.” Ohio, he said, is one of 34 states that make solicitation by HIV-positive people a felony.



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