July 21, 2010 -- The man sentenced to 12 years in prison for knowingly infecting 13 women and girls with the HIV virus has done his time but remains held in an upstate New York prison with no prospect for release, because authorities have deemed him to be a danger to society.
Nushawn Williams was dubbed the "HIV Predator" when he was convicted of having unprotected sex with young women and teens, some as young as 13, and infecting them in 1996 when getting the virus was considered a virtual death sentence.
Officials are refusing to let him out of Erie County's Wende Correctional Facility under the state Civil Confinement Law. Williams' lawyer Daniel Grasso is arguing in court papers that the law was enacted after his client's conviction and shouldn't apply.
"The real problem in the public eye is the HIV issue, that he transmitted HIV to individuals. They allege he did it knowingly, but to this day he tells me he wasn't really sure," Grasso said in an interview with ABC News.
Chautauqua County County health officials say they discovered that Williams was infected with the HIV virus when he was arrested in 1996 for petit larceny and was undergoing standard medical tests before entering a lock-up. They informed him immediately, they said.
Williams, then 19, was released on a conditional discharge and allegedly continued to have unprotected sex with women as he bounced between New York City and Jamestown, an industrial town in the mostly rural Western New York area 400 miles from the city. Health officials claim he is responsible for starting what some called a "one man HIV epidemic." Authorities alleged in court documents Williams was a drug dealer, and would prey on mostly disaffected teens in the small upstate town supplying them with drugs and gifts, even physical violence, to keep them under his control.
Williams Set Off HIV Epidemic in Upstate New York Town
As young women and girls in Jamestown began showing up at county health clinics testing positive for HIV between March and August of 1996, medical officials lead by Dr. Robert Burke were eventually able to draw a connection to Williams, court records show.
The health department issued a county wide alert that October, splashing Williams' picture along with his known aliases and a warning about the HIV virus to try and draw more potential infected victims out, dropping what Burke described in reports as a "bomb" on the county as over 1,000 people lined up to get themselves tested.
"People were standing in line on the streets waiting for HIV testing at the time," Christine Schuyler, Director of the Chautauqua County Department of Heath said in an interview with ABC News.
Court records show officials were able to determine Williams had sex with at least 43 women in the Jamestown area, and 28 in New York City while infected, passing the virus to 13 people including a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old. Since that time, according to records, at least two of those who Williams allegedly infected gave birth to children infected with the HIV virus. Williams himself bragged in a 1999 television interview that his number of sexual conquests was more like "200 to 300."
Williams pled guilty in 1998 to one count of statutory rape for sex with a minor, and two counts of reckless endangerment for knowingly having unprotected sex while infected with HIV. In court records, however, he contended that he did not knowingly infect anyone with HIV and claimed he did not remember being informed he was HIV positive in 1996.
He served two consecutive sentences of two to six years and was scheduled to be release this past April. But after a psychological review with health officials at the prison, he was deemed to still be a danger to society, and continued to be held behind bars under the state's Civil Confinement Law, which was enacted in 2007.
"Nushawn was really preying on young girls in this area, and he infected a lot them with HIV. That's a scary thing to think about him continuing to do if he gets out," Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley told ABC News in an interview.
New York is one of 20 states with civil confinement laws, in which sex offenders deemed to still be a danger to society after their prison terms are finished can be held for the rest of their lives. Under New York's law, the offender is held in a state run psychiatric facility and the confinement is subject to yearly review.
On Monday, Grasso tried to have the civil confinement case thrown out, but was denied by State Supreme Court Judge Michael Michalski.
Grasso argued that Williams had finished serving time for the sexual offense -- statutory rape -- in 2004 and was serving time for reckless endangerment in 2007, when the Civil Confinement Law was passed. Reckless endangerment does not fall under the confinement law, Grasso maintained.
According to Grasso, the case represents something bigger than his client, and that civil confinement is an unfair and unjust law that lacks the proper transparency.
"I've read the law, and never see where it stops. When does a person complete their sentence, 105 and in the grave? That's the whole point, it never does stop," Grasso said.
"It's inherently not fair. The thing that really gets me is the lack of transparency. Who are these people who make the determination, which guy goes through this proceeding, and which guy does not?" he said.
Court records show the New York Attorney General's office argued in Monday's hearing that Williams' convictions qualify him as a sex offender, regardless of when the civil confinement law was enacted. They also argued he is still a threat to society, citing over 20 violations while serving his prison sentence, as well as Williams being diagnosed with substance abuse disorders, Psychopathy and Antisocial Personality Disorder.
A mental health evaluation of Williams conducted by the State Office of Mental Health also mentions that Williams allegedly informed an associate in prison that if he was released he would continue to intentionally infect women with HIV, however it does question the voracity of the allegation although it is "consistent" with Williams' past behavior.
"I don't think any of his records from state prison show he's been rehabilitated," District Attorney Foley said. "I certainly support the AG's decision to civilly confine him."
Williams' next opportunity to argue for release is Oct. 12, the date for his civil confinement hearing.
Grasso admits he has an uphill battle, fighting for a side that is hard pressed to garner any public sympathy.
"Who's your poster child, somebody nobody wants to stand up next to. If it was, we're locking up every guy who gets a DWI for life, this would be a different story," Grasso said.
Grasso is also closely watching a case due in early fall before the New York Court of Appeals, the People v. Rashid, which examines whether permanent civil confinement denies sex offenders of their liberties.