Man with HIV guilty of raping boy, and of attempted felony murder

March 02, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- When Ignacio A. Perea Jr. was arrested for raping three boys, police found a clinic receipt in his pocket indicating that he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

On Monday, a Dade jury ruled that Perea's sexual behavior was tantamount to using a loaded gun: They found him guilty of attempted felony murder against one of the boys. He still faces charges in the alleged rapes of the other two boys.

To win their case under Florida law, the prosecutors had to show that HIV -- like a loaded gun -- was capable of causing death. They did not have the more difficult job of having to prove that Perea actually intended to kill his victims through transmission of the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The prosecutors showed that Perea had HIV, that he knew its fatal consequences and that his doctor advised him against having anal sex, which poses the greatest risk of infection, said Assistant State's Attorney Susan L. Dechovitz.

In 1992, an Oregon man was convicted of the same charge in a similar case after prosecutors showed that he had intended to infect his victims.

A three-man, three-woman jury took less than an hour to convict Perea. They also found him guilty of kidnapping, lewd and lascivious assault and sexual battery. He could receive a prison sentence of at least 25 years from Judge Michael Chavies on March 24.

The case had been closely watched by educators and others worried about its implications for AIDS education and prevention. The case also raised legal questions about whether an HIV-infected rapist could be tried on attempted murder charges even though there was no claim he intended to kill his victims.

"I know there were some people who thought we were criminalizing a disease," said Ms. Dechovitz, who tried the case.

"All that we ask is that people act responsibly, be it with a gun or if they have a deadly virus," she said after the verdict.

The defense attorneys, Jay Levine and Harold Keefe, could not be reached for comment.

In his closing arguments Monday afternoon, Mr. Levine rejected Ms. Dechovitz's assertion that State vs. Perea was a case of "innocence lost" and of middle-school-age boys who were "forced to face the possibility of the incurable."

None of the victims has contracted the AIDS virus.

The main issue, Mr. Levine told the jury, was whether the state had arrested the right man.

Mr. Levine said the victims -- all of whom took the stand and identified Perea as their assailant -- initially told different stories about the vehicle that picked them up. The first two victims, he added, initially failed to identify his client during a photo lineup. And there were questions as to whether the third victim was assaulted at all, Mr. Levine said.

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