Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter conducts a sidebar with, from left, defendant Craig Davis, defense attorney John Turner, court reporter Melissa Bray and prosecutors Katie Powers and Marcus Thorpe Tuesday morning. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — An Atlanta man faces 20 years in prison after being convicted Tuesday morning of two counts of reckless conduct by an HIV-infected person.
It is the first case of its kind prosecuted in Clayton County.
In fact, jurors told Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter that they decided Craig Lamar Davis’ fate Friday evening but wanted to “sleep on it.”
Davis, who has been out on bond, was taken into custody to await his Feb. 21 sentencing.
That three-day weekend delay, however, allowed for an event that almost created a mistrial. One of the jurors encountered a woman she believed to be Davis’ significant other while working at a Stride-Rite store Saturday.
When the panel returned to court Tuesday morning, she told her fellow jurors that she turned to greet a customer only to discover it was a woman she’d seen with Davis during the trial. They apparently exchanged pleasantries and the juror went to the back room to avoid further contact.
The contact was enough for defense attorney John Turner to ask for a mistrial.
“The juror felt intimidated and even back in the jury room, she was highly-emotional,” said Turner. “The jury’s been affected.”
But Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers disagreed and presented case law that states a defendant cannot benefit from a situation that he has orchestrated.
“The juror indicated she did not feel intimidated,” said Powers. “The encounter was inherently innocuous and had no impact.”
Furthermore, she said, jurors apparently already decided on a verdict before leaving Friday for a three-day weekend.
“Most notably, a decision had been reached in this case as of Friday,” said Powers. “They just wanted to go home and sleep on it.”
Powers offered to let an alternate be seated in the store employee’s place and let deliberations begin anew. Turner objected to Davis being characterized as the person behind the encounter.
Carter ruled a mistrial was not warranted and neither was beginning deliberations fresh with an alternate.
Based on the timing Friday, jurors deliberated 30-45 minutes before reaching a guilty verdict. Powers, who prosecuted the case with Erman Tanjuatco and Marcus Thorpe, said she was pleased with the verdict.
“I think the swiftness of their deliberations demonstrates the intolerance the jury has of this type of conduct,” she said. “This sends a message that it is incumbent on you to notify your partner if you are HIV-positive. Let that person decide if they want a deadly disease that affects their lives, their families and their children.”
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said the prosecutors represented not only the woman in this case but a woman named as the victim in a pending Fulton County case.
Neither woman is being identified because they are considered victims of an alleged sexual assault. Both women testified. The Clayton County victim has tested HIV-negative since her encounters with Davis but the Fulton County woman testified that she is HIV-positive.
The Clayton County victim said she felt vindicated. Davis took the stand in his own defense and said she lied about their relationship, even calling her “crazy.”
“I’m happy we made it this far,” she said. “Some things are expected, I heard what he said about me. I expected some of that testimony but I’m happy the jury saw the truth and that Mr. Davis was exposed for his actions.”
The woman’s attorney, James Walker, said the verdict sends a message to other HIV-infected men and women.
“I’m pleased with the verdict for victims, not only for my client, but countless numbers of men and woman infected by this disease as a result of reckless and careless behavior by people like Craig Lamar Davis,” said Walker. “This conviction will make the Fulton County case easier to prosecute.”
Turner, who will represent Davis in the second case, agreed.
“I expect substantially the same results in Fulton County,” he said. “I don’t think it will get different results. I’d be shocked based on why I think we got the verdict we did in Clayton.”
Turner’s primary defense, aside from claiming the women knew Davis was HIV-positive, was that HIV and AIDS don’t exist. Turner said long-held beliefs kept his client from getting justice he deserved.
“We had to overcome more than 30 years of HIV hysteria and prejudice,” he said. “I think the jury’s verdict reflects that hysteria. They said they made their decision Friday. They took no longer than 30-45 minutes. That implies they didn’t look at the physical evidence or if they did, it was cursory.”
Turner, assisted by Clark Baker, director of Office of Medical and Scientific Justice in California, presented three experts to dispute the existence of HIV and AIDS.
“We clearly established reasons to question the test results,” said Turner. “We had documents and medical experts so they had reasonable doubt handed to them on a platter. They decided in their wisdom to disregard it.”
Turner expects the case to be appealed but not by him as he doesn’t do appellate work.
Baker said he expects to file a civil lawsuit against the doctors, hospital and lab involved in Davis’ case.
“I am disappointed by the verdict,” he said. “I plan to explore the possibility that the doctors and Quest Diagnostics basically admitted under oath that they didn’t diagnose HIV. Based on the tests, 90 percent of all HIV-positive cases in Atlanta and across the country were improperly diagnosed and are probably not infected with HIV.”
Baker suggested that the science was probably over the heads of the jury.
“This is a big issue and probably too big for these jurors to worry about,” he said. “We will be pursuing claims against Quest and the doctors and hospital involved in the misdiagnosis of Craig Davis.”
Baker also clarified the mission of OMSJ.
“OMSJ is a private investigation agency licensed by the state of California,” he said. “I’ve personally conducted more than 3500 criminal, civil and military investigations since 1980.”
Baker said OMSJ hires investigators, not theologians.
“Theologians usually call unbelievers ‘heretics,’ but prefer ‘denialists’ as their favorite epithet,” he said. “You will only find that word is used by doctors, academics and activists who are funded by the pharmaceutical industry.”
He also said OMSJ does not deny the existence of HIV or AIDS.
“We’ve photographed HIV in numerous experiments and continue to conduct experiments,” he said. “As for AIDS, humans and animals have acquired immune deficiency syndromes for thousands of years.”