BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nushawn Williams, a New York drug dealer imprisoned amid accusations he infected 13 young women with HIV in the 1990s, does not have the virus that causes AIDS, according to his attorney, who said he arranged for a new blood test as part of efforts to get him released from prison.
"The results were that there was no HIV," lawyer John Nuchereno said Thursday, after revealing the findings during a court hearing earlier in the week.
He said Williams, 36, may have been the victim of a false positive when tested 16 years ago.
"Everybody just assumed the results were correct. Everyone just accepted it," he said.
State officials, seeking to keep Williams locked up, have questioned the validity of the new results.
Williams has been in prison since pleading guilty in 1999 to statutory rape and reckless endangerment.
In 1997, before he was charged, authorities in the western New York city of Jamestown took the unusual step of announcing publicly that Williams was HIV positive in an effort to stem further spread of the virus by Williams' partners to others. News that the dreadlocked Bronx native known as "Face" had been found to be the common denominator in numerous HIV cases, including that of a 13-year-old girl, set off a panic in the small city and sent lines for HIV testing out clinic doors.
He told a reporter in 1999 that he'd had sex with 200 to 300 partners.
Williams, who now goes by the name Shyteek Johnson, completed a 12-year prison sentence in April 2010 but has remained in custody as the state seeks to have him committed indefinitely under a civil law that allows extended confinement for sex offenders with mental abnormalities that make them likely to offend again.
Nuchereno argues that Williams, without HIV, is not a danger and should be freed.
"Are you dangerous because at 19 or 20 you liked to have sex?" he asked.
A trial is scheduled for next month.
The state's request to conduct its own HIV test on Williams was denied on Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Joseph Muia Jr. questioned whether the April blood sample had been properly handled, as well as the reliability of the test submitted by Nuchereno, which was conducted using an electron microscope at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
"The information we have is that the electron microscope testing is not the gold standard, so to speak, of testing in this field," Muia said during a motions hearing Tuesday in state Supreme Court.
He told the judge that Williams had been tested quarterly while in prison and treated for HIV because of consistently positive findings. But he said he did not have access to the prison medical records to show the court.
State corrections officials said Thursday they could not discuss specific inmates' care but that offenders generally receive services consistent with the standard of care in the community.
Muia also suggested the treatment Williams received in prison had made his HIV undetectable.
Dr. Joseph McGowan, medical director of the Center for Aids Research and Treatment at North Shore University Hospital, told The Associated Press that the accepted protocol for HIV testing involves screening the blood for antibodies and then confirming the results with a second test. An electron microscope would be unreliable, particularly for someone infected a long time, because the number of cells harboring virus genes would be diluted over time and difficult to detect, said McGowan, the New York and New Jersey chairman of the American Academy of HIV Medicine.
"Electron microscopy is not typically a means for confirming or ruling out HIV infection," said Dr. Joseph Cervia, who is also a certified HIV specialist with the American Academy of HIV Medicine and a clinical professor at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.
In its 2010 petition seeking civil confinement, the attorney general's office described Williams as a mentally disturbed, sex-obsessed drug user who was unruly and sometimes violent in prison and would likely infect more women if set free. A psychologist's report said Williams targeted vulnerable young women who were underage and/or drug addicted and "used charm and coercion to secure sexual contact."