BUFFALO, N.Y. – The state can try to keep a sex offender who infected at least 13 women with the AIDS virus locked up beyond the 12-year prison sentence he completed in April, a judge ruled Monday.
Prosecutors can use the state's civil-confinement law — meant to keep the most dangerous sex offenders out of communities after prison — to try to detain Nushawn Williams indefinitely, State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski said.
Williams, 33, mouthed "I love you" to his wife as he was led in handcuffs into the courtroom Monday and said nothing as Michalski announced that he was denying a request by Williams' lawyer to throw out the attorney general's civil-confinement case.
Williams is scheduled to face a civil-confinement trial in October.
Defense attorney Daniel Grasso had argued in June that Williams should not be subject to the 3-year-old civil-confinement law because it was passed long after he pleaded guilty in 1998 to statutory rape and reckless endangerment. He also said Williams had already finished the rape sentence at the time and had begun serving his consecutive sentence for reckless endangerment, a crime not eligible for civil confinement.
But the judge agreed with assistant Attorney General Wendy Whiting's argument that sentences merge together in prison, so Williams was still in prison for a sex crime when the law was passed.
"The clawing back is what's really egregious here," Grasso said following the decision. He said Williams could not have known when he pleaded guilty that he could be subject to a potential lifetime of civil confinement once his prison sentence ended.
The law allows the state to lock up a sex offender indefinitely if it proves the person has a mental abnormality and is likely to commit more crimes. Offenders are held at psychiatric facilities, with their cases reviewed yearly.
"The law is not a bad law if it's done going forward," Grasso said.
The attorney general's office, in court documents, described Williams as a mentally disturbed, sex-obsessed drug user who was cited for 21 disciplinary offenses in prison.
In 1997, before the Bronx native was charged, health and police authorities in rural Chautauqua County took the unusual step of making Williams' HIV status public to try to stop further spread of the virus by Williams' infected partners.
The announcement set off a panic in the western New York city of Jamestown, creating lines for HIV testing that stretched out the door of clinics. Williams has said he did not recall being told he had the virus while in jail in 1996 and did not intend to spread it.
"I was selling drugs and moving too fast," Williams told Dr. Jacob Hadden of the state Office of Mental Health during a March interview at Wende Correctional Facility, according to court records. "If I used protection, I wouldn't have it, either."