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ACLU Files Federal Appeal on Behalf of Prisoner with HIV;
Challenging Sentence of 99 Years or Life For Spitting
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 1993
The American Civil Liberties Union's national AIDS Project and the
ACLU of Texas today filed an appeal in federal court seeking a reversal of
the conviction of Curtis Weeks, a prisoner infected with HIV who was found
guilty of attempted murder by a Texas jury in November 1989 for spitting
on a prison guard.
"The conviction of Curtis Weeks represents one of the darkest hours
in America's battle with AIDS," said Ruth E. Harlow, the Associate
Director of the ACLU's AIDS Project. "In an atmosphere of hysteria and
panic, Mr. Weeks was locked up for the rest of his life even though HIV
has never been transmitted by spitting."
Weeks has exhausted his state court appeals, with each court in Texas
refusing to overturn his conviction. In filing a petition for a writ of
habeus corpus in the federal district court in Galveston, the ACLU
maintains that Weeks is being illegally held in custody -- in violation of
his constitutional rights -- because the state could not and did not prove
a critical element of the crime he allegedly committed: that spitting by a
person infected with HIV "tends" to cause death.
The ACLU further contends that Weeks was denied his right to a fair
trial because the court misdirected the jury on the charge, leading the
jurors to believe that the prosecution did not have to prove that spitting
by Mr. Weeks "tended" to bring about murder.
Weeks was serving a short sentence for theft when the spitting
incident occurred. He spit at the guard while being heavily restrained
during a long trip between prisons. Had he not been convicted of attempted
murder, Weeks would have long ago left prison and returned to his family.
Unless released by the federal courts, he will undoubtedly die well before
completing his sentence of 99 years in the state prison in Rosharon,
"Mr. Weeks may have been rude, but he did not attempt to kill
anyone," said William B. Rubenstein, Director of the ACLU AIDS Project.
"HIV provides no excuse for the State of Texas ignoring the clear
requirements of its own attempted murder laws and of the United States
During the trial, Texas prosecutors relied on the testimony of two
notorious "expert" witnesses, Paul Drummond Cameron and Dr. Lorraine Day.
Neither a medical doctor nor a research scientist, Cameron has made a
career of testifying against litigants who are gay or who are associated
with AIDS. During Weeks' trial, Cameron erroneously exaggerated the risk
of HIV transmission in all kinds of contexts, including via insects and
Dr. Day likewise routinely provides alarmist estimates of the risk of
HIV transmission in court testimony. When asked during the Weeks trial why
the entire medical community disagrees with her conclusions, Dr. Day could
only say that Galileo's positions had similarly been rejected by his
Today's filing in federal court names Texas Attorney General Dan
Morales along with James A. Lynaugh, Executive Director of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice, and James A. Collines, Director of the
Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as
Harlow and Rubenstein are handling the case for the ACLU, with
assistance from cooperating attorneys Steven Alan Reiss and Curt P. Beck
of Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York and David J. Healey of that firm's
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