Testimony began Thursday in Hall County Superior Court for the trial of an HIV-positive woman charged with reckless conduct.
Gainesville resident Heather Nix, 36, is alleged to have illegally withheld knowledge for more than eight years of her HIV status from then-husband and longtime partner Kevin Franklin.
“He’s lived for all these years exposing himself, without knowing the risk he’s been taking,” Assistant District Attorney Juliet Aldridge said in opening statements.
Aldridge said notes from doctors expressing “concern” whether Nix was forthcoming about her status, along with the testimony of her mother, confirmed the deception.
“Look at those things: contradictions between what she’s telling medical professionals, what she’s telling her mom and what she’s telling the investigator,” Aldridge said in opening statements.
Representing Nix, public defender Travis Williams said Franklin was HIV negative, describing the trial as “egregious
“The state wants to use the stigma of HIV; the state wants to use that stigma to convict a woman of a felony,” he said in his opening. “Reckless conduct might sound like something light — no, it’s a felony.”
A conviction carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
The state’s first witness was the defendant’s mother, Lynn Watson, who testified she asked Franklin if he knew his wife’s HIV status in July 2009, while she was in the hospital.
“I just came out and asked him, did he know? And he said no and he started crying,” Watson testified.
Nix first found out about her status in 1998, after being hospitalized when an epileptic seizure caused a car wreck, Watson said.
“We understood it was a tattoo,” Watson told Aldridge, of how Nix contracted HIV. “She never dated anybody for that whole year and a half after her baby was born — it was church, work, home.”
Emotions ran high when Watson described to Williams on cross-examination the scrutiny she faced for her daughter’s diagnosis.
“Everybody thinks they can catch it from you, at that time. It’s different now,” she said. “My husband at the time told me he wished he left me when I told him.”
Jury selection presented a barometer of opinions on a disease that has undergone both social and medical transformations in the past two decades.
About two-thirds of jurors said they should have the “right to know” if a co-worker had HIV. Upon further questioning, some cited occupational hazards in medical industries. One woman at a desk job said the risk of paper cuts warranted disclosure of HIV status.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates about 1.1 million people with HIV are living in the U.S.
“These statues were passed in the (19)80s. It’s a different world now,” Williams said of the charge.
Testimony continues today in the case.