DALLAS ó A homeless man who spit in the mouth and eye of a police officer and then taunted him, saying he was HIV positive, was sentenced to 35 years in prison Wednesday for harassing a public servant with a deadly weapon: his saliva.
Because of the deadly weapon finding, the man, Willie Campbell, 42, of Dallas, will not be eligible for parole until he has served half his sentence.
In May 2006, a passer-by reported an unconscious man, Campbell, sprawled outside a downtown Dallas building. Campbell tried to fight paramedics and kicked the police officer who arrested him for public intoxication.
The police reported that Campbell spat at an officer and said he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as they struggled to move him to a squad car.
During the trial, Campbell, who prosecutors say has been HIV positive since 1994, denied that he had resisted arrest or spit at an officer, his lawyer, Russell Henrichs, said Thursday.
Henrichs added that his client had been indicted under a habitual-offender statute that increased the penalty to a minimum of 25 years in prison, because he had been convicted of attacking two other officers in a similar manner and biting two inmates, as well as more than two dozen other offenses.
"You can see why we thought that we needed to get this guy off the streets," said Jenni Morse, who prosecuted the current case. None of the three officers attacked by Campbell contracted HIV.
After Campbell was convicted by a jury, he shouted at the prosecutor and police officers, calling them liars and telling them to "rot in hell" for "railroading an innocent man."
Campbell waived his right to appeal and is awaiting transfer from the Dallas jail to prison.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. Although there have been rare cases of transmission through severe bites, "contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV," the agency reports.
Lambda Legal, which advocates for people with the virus, says saliva should not be deemed a deadly weapon.
"Thereís still an incredible amount of ignorance about HIV and how HIV is or isnít transmitted," said Bebe Anderson, the groupís HIV project director.