The legal saga of a Minneapolis man who didn’t tell several men that he was HIV-positive when he had unprotected sex with them ended Wednesday, four years after court battles that eventually led the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn a jury conviction.
Daniel J. Rick, 33, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted first-degree assault/knowing transfer of a communicable disease, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. As part of the plea agreement, two similar cases were dropped.
Rick was sentenced to 3 years’ probation, but will be on probation for a total of 15 years as part of a sentence in another case.
His legal issues drew national attention when he was convicted in 2011 of attempted first-degree assault after several sexual encounters with a man who eventually tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The man testified that Rick, who tested positive for HIV in 2006, never told him about his HIV status. It is believed to be the first such case to go to trial in Minnesota.
Last year, the state Supreme Court overturned that conviction. The other cases against Rick that were resolved Wednesday had been on hold while he was appealing.
The county attorney’s office declined to retry Rick on the case overturned by the Supreme Court, and the charges in another case of transferring a communicable disease were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Freeman declined to comment on the agreement.
Rick also declined to comment, but his attorney, Landon Ascheman, said, “Daniel is happy he put this behind him and it’s all taken care of.”
In the 2009 case, two men said they met Rick online and invited him to their home. Neither in his online profile nor when he was in their house did he indicate that he was HIV-positive, according to the subsequent criminal complaint.
Eventually, both men had unprotected sex with him, and one became ill several weeks later. Lab tests revealed he had contracted HIV.
Others came forward
At the time, authorities called the case “particularly unique.” Publicity from the case led others to come forward to police, leading to more charges against Rick.
“It’s almost like saying, ‘I’ve got this disease, I’m mad at the world, and I want to spread it everywhere,’ ” Freeman said in 2010, when Rick was charged.
In its 2013 ruling, the state Supreme Court said Rick was wrongfully convicted under an incorrect interpretation of an ambiguous state law that the court said referred only to the knowing transfer of a communicable disease through sperm or blood donation, not sex. In making its ruling, the court was upholding a 2012 state Court of Appeals decision overturning the convictions.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling acknowledged that the communicable-disease statute presented difficult interpretation issues and that the Legislature may have, in fact, intended something different. At the time of the ruling, Ascheman said that “any attempt to modify or expand this [law] would simply result in an uproar.”
On Wednesday, Ascheman said the state high court’s ruling was considered by the legal community to be an important clarification of the communicable-disease statute. “They did an excellent job,” he said. “It helps all pending cases.”
Ascheman said he hadn’t talked to Rick since he officially made his guilty plea in court Monday. He declined to comment on his client’s health or reaction to the agreement.
In 2009, an HIV-positive man was sentenced to 25 years in Iowa for putting consensual partners at risk.