Johnson Aziga, believed to be the first person in Canada convicted of murder through HIV transmission, apologized in court Wednesday to his many victims, but said he did not deliberately infect the women.
Mr. Aziga, a 54-year-old Ugandan immigrant and father of three, was found guilty in April 2009 of two counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault.
Mr. Aziga's convictions are related to 11 women with whom he had unprotected sex and did not tell them he had the virus that causes AIDS. Seven of the women became infected and two died of AIDS-related cancers.
The Crown is seeking to have Mr. Aziga declared a dangerous offender, which could see him jailed indefinitely. Mr. Aziga took the stand Wednesday at the hearing and read a statement in which he said he regrets and apologizes for not disclosing his HIV status.
"I am so sorry for what happened," he said. "I wish I had the wisdom and the wherewithal to advise my partners of my HIV infection."
Mr. Aziga suggested he has gained so much insight since his August 2003 arrest that he wants to share it and be part of the "teaching process."
"I bring a wealth of experience and knowledge that would be beneficial to the public," he said. "I will share my experience with them in hopes that they won't end up in my shoes of being the HIV poster boy."
Even after he was ordered by public health to disclose his HIV-positive status to partners, Mr. Aziga did not tell the women with whom he was having unprotected sex. After his arrest, he told authorities the names of sexual partners he could remember, which he said Wednesday was, "in my own way, some kind of apology to the women."
"My arrest saved me as well as my partners because some went for testing once they heard that I had been arrested," Mr. Aziga said. "I had not deliberately infected women."
Mr. Aziga and his best friend, Abate Wori Abate, who testified earlier Wednesday, used similar phrasing, saying Mr. Aziga was sorry for "what happened." Asked outside court about the choice of words, Mr. Aziga's lawyers said his client is also sorry for what he did.
"That would be nitpicking, given the gravity of the situation," said Munyonzwe Hamalengwa. "I think in his own way . . . basically he's admitting he's sorry for what he did. He's maybe saying it in a different way, under the circumstances, but it's the same thing."
Mr. Abate, who has known Mr. Aziga since 1984 and visits him two or three times a month, admitted under cross-examination that Mr. Aziga never directly admitted to him what he did, just that he had been charged and convicted.
Mr. Aziga learned in 1996 that he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS, and felt like he "had been shot in the head, heart and soul," he said. At the time HIV was regarded as a death sentence, he said, and the social stigma he faced caused him to sink into deep depression.
"I could not tell anyone about my infection because at that time, in the 1990s, HIV-positive individuals were treated like lepers of the old," Mr. Aziga said. "People would shun you. People isolated you. People thought they would catch the disease by merely shaking hands with you, or sitting where you had sat, or eating at the same table or even sharing the toilet seat."
Mr. Aziga drowned his sorrows in alcohol and sought companionship from women he met in bars, he said.
"In my state of mind at that time when I had literally given up on my life and thoughts of death were ever-present, I sincerely regret and apologize that advising my partners of my HIV infection was not close to my mind," he said. "I wish I had advised them."
Mr. Aziga said he always had condoms, but "sometimes spontaneity during drunken episodes overtook the ability and opportunity to use condoms." When a woman asked him to use one he did, but he said, "I could not force anybody who did not want to use it."
When he was first diagnosed, Mr. Aziga was given only about five years to live. His lawyers say he is taking medication and his viral load is now close to zero.
Under the Criminal Code, a person convicted of a "serious personal injury offence" and found at a sentencing hearing to pose an ongoing risk can be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.
A dangerous offender can first apply for parole after seven years. After that, the person can apply again every two years. If the parole board never determines the offender is fit for release, he will stay in prison for the rest of his life.
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