Army private at Aberdeen base sentenced for having unsafe sex

Soldier with AIDS virus gets 3-year sentence for failing to tell of condition

January 20, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

An Army private was sentenced yesterday to three years in a military prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault and other charges for engaging in unprotected sex despite being ordered by the Army to tell sexual partners that she was HIV positive.

Pfc. Gerland Squires, a soldier at Aberdeen Proving Ground, will receive a bad conduct discharge, have her rank reduced from private first class to private and forfeit all pay and benefits.

"I'm sorry, so sorry," the 21-year-old private said, sobbing, just before a seven-member panel sentenced her on charges of aggravated assault, disobeying a superior and making a false statement to investigators.

The case is the first of its kind at APG, which in 1996 was rocked by a scandal involving drill sergeants accused of having sex with female trainees. But the Supreme Court this year is to hear arguments on a similar HIV-related case at a Texas Air Force base.

Eight partners not told

Squires' commander at APG had ordered her to use a condom and tell her sexual partners that she carried the virus that causes AIDS. But Squires, who is from New York and was transferred to APG last January, did not tell eight of nine men with whom she had sex that she was HIV positive, and had unprotected sex with four of them, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors portrayed Squires as unconcerned and said she became pregnant two months after being diagnosed as HIV positive by the Army during a physical in July 1997. Squires' 9-month-old daughter, Nadia, is HIV positive.

Capt. Susan Grendahl, the army prosecutor, said Squires willfully disobeyed the order by Capt. Charles D. Wilson that she inform potential partners of her disease and insist they wear condoms.

"This is not the behavior of a responsible soldier or a good mother," Grendahl said. "And she is neither."

Army officials said the nine men, three of whom are civilians, all have tested negative for HIV.

At the sentencing, Squires said she was transferred to APG from Fort Stewart, Ga., after it became known that she had the virus.

Taking the stand to give an unsworn statement, the petite, baby-faced soldier emotionally recounted how she learned of her infection after a physical when she was planning to get married.

Squires said her engagement ended and said that when people found out she was HIV positive, they shunned her.

"A lot of people I used to hang out with stopped hanging out with me," Squires said. "They stopped talking to me."

Defense cites fears, stress

Defense attorneys said that experience led Squires to conceal her HIV status once she came to APG. Her fears and the stress of being a single parent led her to seek an escape through sexual relationships, they said.

"She was a 21-year-old adult faced with an avalanche of crisis," said defense attorney Capt. Charles Lozano. "This wasn't to hurt people, it was to escape the tragedies that surrounded her life."

Squires admitted that she initially lied to her superior and to Army criminal investigators when questioned about her sexual activities. Squires said some of the men were married and that she lied to protect them. None appeared at the court martial.

But prosecutors said Squires willfully and recklessly endangered the lives of the men she slept with, some of whom she met while she was pregnant and seeking treatment at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

"When they had sex with her, they trusted Pfc. Squires to tell them that she had HIV," Grendahl said. "That's human decency."

Similar case challenged

Officials said Squires case was the first of its kind at Aberdeen. But there have been similar cases involving the armed forces, including a 1994 court-martial at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, which is on appeal at the Supreme Court.

That case will determine whether Maj. James Goldsmith, who is HIV positive, will lose his benefits. Goldsmith was convicted of disobeying an order to use safe-sex precautions and sentenced to six years in jail for engaging in unprotected sex with a civilian woman and a female officer.

Squires' attorneys argued that their client should retain her position in the Army so that she and her infant daughter, who is living with Squires' sister in Virginia, could continue medical treatment.

Squires said her medication, if purchased by her, would cost $450 a day for the three doses she is required to take.

"To take away her benefits, to take away her medication, that would truly be a death sentence," Lozano said.

Last night, Squires was to be taken to the brig at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., where she has been detained since October.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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