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Nick Rhoades: Imprisoned For Months, Punished For Life, For Failure To Disclose

This link will bring you to one of the saddest stories you'll read this month. It's the story of an Iowan named Nick Rhoades; a person with HIV who has always strictly adhered to his medication regimen. In the summer of 2008, his viral load was so puny as to be undetectable.

RhoadesOne evening in June of that year, Rhoades hooked up with a man named Adam Plendl. He used a condom, but declined to disclose his status until afterwards. When Rhoades did disclose, Plendl panicked. From CNN:

Plendl, 22 at the time, says his life was forever changed ... and that he was severely depressed and suffered panic attacks while waiting to find out if he was infected.

"It was 181 days of pure fear, that six-month window when you don't know," he says.

"Individuals that are HIV positive have a moral and currently legal obligation to inform any of their sexual partners of their positive status. Individuals should have the choice as to whether or not they would engage with someone who is HIV positive when they are not. In this case, that choice -- and what I also consider a right -- was not afforded to me."

Plendl called the police. Three months after the June hookup, Rhoades was arrested, and charged with "criminal transmission of HIV" -- even though medical tests then and later showed that there was no transmission of HIV, and Plendl remains negative. Rhoades's attorney advised him to plead guilty to the charge, which he did. His bail was set at a quarter million dollars, and Rhoades couldn't pay that. He spent nine months in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, before being sentenced to 25 years in prison. That sentence was subsequently commuted to time served, five years of probation, and life on the sex offender registry. Says Rhoades:

My life is forever changed. Do a Google search for my name and some pretty horrific stuff comes up. I have had to change a private medical condition and a private life to public domain.

That's not to say I can't be happy, find employment, have a satisfying life, but it's never going to just go away.

Read all about it here.

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Comments

  1. this is a difficult story to have just one opinion about.

    on the one hand as a negative sexually active gay man i have to say that I really think it is my business to know in advance if a sexual partner is positive or negative before we have sex.

    on the other hand, a 25 year sentence, 5 years probation and registering as a sex offender is really harsh in this case.

    If the guy had been running around having unprotected sex and intentionally exposing others to infection, my opinion would be that life in prison was just. but that is not the case here.

    Posted by: mikenola | Aug 5, 2012 3:58:21 PM


  2. I see both sides of the issue here. Men (and women) engaging in sexual activity should have open discussions about each other's sexual health status (including their possible infection with HIV, herpes, HPV, and any other STIs). Open dialogue with sexual partners can help reduce risk and is an essential component of sexual negotiation between partners. That being said, however, linking sex acts with "criminal transmission of HIV" is ludicrous. Whenever two (or more) persons engage in sexual activity, they are assuming responsibility for the associated risks. Outside of a long-term, monogamous, and committed relationship, everyone should assume his or her sexual partner is HIV+ and act accordingly.

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | Aug 5, 2012 4:04:21 PM


  3. Okay, this is ridiculous. How is there a way to prove transmission? Plendel could have caught HIV from any hook up that year!! Also when the HIV level is undetectable, guess what? no transmission, assuming that Plendel is the top. The way you get HIV is by being on bottom with someone whose viral load is high. Which means someone not taking their drugs, or unaware of their status. Also, pure fear? Really? Rhodes should have just lied to Plendel and told him he was negative.

    Posted by: tom | Aug 5, 2012 4:09:19 PM


  4. I was shocked by the bias of this story from Towleroad. I have opinions on both sides of this debate.

    This guy is not an innocent little boy like this story tries to make you believe. He has an infection that can and still does kill- OFTEN. There is still no cure for HIV/AIDS.

    Living with HIV affects EVERYTHING - the drugs you can take for anything else, the treatments you can get for anything else, diabetes medication, eye medication etc etc. As a nurse I know that many, many of the drugs I give to patient in the hospital for non HIV related reasons I just cannot give to someone with HIV. People just do not understand how many issues are still affected with having HIV.

    I have been in a similar situation to the victim about 6 years ago and luckily I tested negative but the risk should have been MY decision - not anyone else's. It's my body and my life - I should have been given all of the facts so I, as an adult, could make an informed decision about wanting to have sex or not with someone with HIV.

    Posted by: Icebloo | Aug 5, 2012 4:22:52 PM


  5. And people wonder why no one wants to disclose? @ Mikenola, why is it your business if you are undertaking safe sex? I mean, seriously, do expect every positive man to tell you when that is your attitude? And well done Dr Christopher, you stated it clearly here. ASSUME everyone is positive, it is the ONLY way to stay negative if you are... (Or, you know, grow a pair and recognise that live is a risk anyway...)

    Posted by: Stufromoz | Aug 5, 2012 4:27:15 PM


  6. Tom, it's comments like that which makes laws like this and inforcement so important . Personally, I think the punishment is fair. Hopefully this will prevent someone else from putting someone else's life at risk.

    Posted by: Mike | Aug 5, 2012 4:28:08 PM


  7. Condoms aren't always 100% safe. He had no right to not disclose his status to his hookup. 25 years in jail and life within the sex offender registry may be a bit harsh, but he was reckless, disrespectful and VERY SELFISH.

    He wants to have sex? That's his prerogative. I and others have every right to screen out potential sexual partners because of their STDs. The fact that he didn't tell this guy 'til AFTER the hookup means that he KNEW or suspected that disclosure of his status prior to sex would've likely resulted in the hookup running off.

    It is sad that some people have HID/AIDS. They, however, are SELFISH, reckless and disrespectful when they do not disclose their carrier status to potential sexual partners.

    Posted by: Philip Wester | Aug 5, 2012 4:30:57 PM


  8. I am surprised at how one sided this post is. It was not his life that he was gambling with. Despite all the advances in treatment, HIV is still a life-changing and ultimately fatal infection. I've seen too many patients on the other side of this. Being so laissez faire about transmission is dangerous, and huge problem in our community.

    Posted by: John | Aug 5, 2012 4:36:02 PM


  9. He should have disclosed his status BEFORE not after having sex. On the other hand, once his sex-partner was found not to have contracted HIV from the encounter, the charges should have been dropped.

    Posted by: Jay | Aug 5, 2012 4:36:52 PM


  10. Although Rhodes should have disclosed, where is the other man's responsibility to ask? I am assuming that Plendl is neither a child nor a mentally deficient adult and if that is the case then it was as much his duty and responsibility to ask about Rhodes status prior to sex as it was Rhodes' to disclose. It is 2012 you idiot. It is not "bad manners" to ask someone their HIV status before having sexy with them.

    Posted by: Mark | Aug 5, 2012 4:37:48 PM


  11. Yes, people who are HIV positive have a moral obligation to let people know their status . . . that said, Plendl is a Pu**y, a jerk, and dispicable human being, who has forgotten one essential fact . . .that he (that all of us) ultimately responsible for our health health.

    It is not as if Mr. Rhoades did not take some precautions, and was purposely, with malicious and criminal intent trying to infect Plendl.

    I am negative, but if that should ever change, I will not be blaming other people for my choices.

    From the inception of HIV and the AIDS nightmare, I always assumed it was MY responsibility to look after my health.

    Here is hoping that karma will find Mr. Plendl in this or some other life.

    Posted by: Ricco | Aug 5, 2012 4:41:56 PM


  12. Never ever accept a plea deal where you admit guilt. Far too many people end up in the system due to Prison kick back to judges for accepting a plea deal. The prison system has become nothing more than a money making business where innocence or guilt isn't a concern.

    Posted by: lazycrockett | Aug 5, 2012 4:43:30 PM


  13. Mark:

    Plendl should have asked but the LEGAL burden is on Rhodes to disclose. "Oops, I infected you with HIV because you didn't ask" doesn't cut it.

    Posted by: vin | Aug 5, 2012 4:46:12 PM


  14. He obviously committed a wrong, but the sentence is far too harsh. His name should be taken off the sex offender list, at least, and he shouldn't have to be considered an ex-con (sentenced for something over a year), either.

    Just think what that kid did to Tyler Clementi... taped him over the internet having sex... and not even he got put on the sex offender list.

    9 months, "much of it in solitary conefinement" (which meets the UN's definition of torture) is all time that he can't have back - a more than severe enough punishment.

    Barring him from ever getting a decent job again or living in most decent neighborhoods is not only way overkill, destroying his life, but hurts us all, too.

    Our country has some seriously F'd up ideas on prison and punishment. This is a very unfortunate example.

    Posted by: Ryan | Aug 5, 2012 4:49:53 PM


  15. @ICEBLOO . . . for a nurse you are surprisingly paranoid, and willing to shift responsibility. Actually, even those of us who are not nurses, know as much as a nurse about how HIV can affect a persons life, and some of us, sadly, know even more than most nurses, or doctors for that matter. So you need not be so condescending, Nurse Ratchet.

    "I should have been given all of the facts so I, as an adult, could make an informed decision about wanting to have sex or not with someone with HIV," you write.

    Well, actually, you were given all the facts. We all know what is involved when we have sex with someone we do not know very well.

    If you ever, God Forbid, ever contract HIV, you, and you alone will be responsible; so unless you are brutally raped, remember this, you DECIDE whether or not to open your legs.

    I will tell you what is even scarier than having sex with someone who is HIV positive, and that is having a nurse who has as much compassion as an ostrich pecking at her young.

    Sad to say but there are way too many bad nurses out there.

    Posted by: Ricco | Aug 5, 2012 4:55:08 PM


  16. Thank you Dr. Christopher for the most rational comment here. The hysteria shown here is counter-productive to the fight against HIV/AIDS. As long as laws like this exist, people will either continue the idea that it is better not to know and not get tested, or they will just lie when hooking up. I bet not one of you has ever considered the possibility that when you ask a hook up before letting him slide his member, with or without a condom, into you, that he may have been lying to you to get what he wants. It is bad enough we have to face this kind of hysteria and stigma from the straight community, but in 2012, it is appalling to face from our own.

    Posted by: Kenneth | Aug 5, 2012 4:57:37 PM


  17. Assuming this is the whole story, I have to say it's way too harsh a punishment. The risk from a single unprotected encounter is actually quite low and this guy had an undetectable viral load, AND used a condom. I do not think the law should be involved here. In personal relations, we are all responsible for our own decisions. There are many, many behaviors we might consider "wrong" without making them illegal.

    Posted by: Gary | Aug 5, 2012 5:03:26 PM


  18. The bottom should've asked- but Rhoades should've also disclosed. I def think 25 years was way too harsh for an act that was ultimately proven to not have happened- and being placed on a sex offender list, as well as being on parole for 5 years was way too much.

    Posted by: scott | Aug 5, 2012 5:09:14 PM


  19. I always like to play "devils advocate"...

    1. you disclose that you are HIV+
    2. you have sex with someone and practice what you both deem as SAFER SEX
    3. the HIV- person becomes infected
    4. the HIV- person decides to say that you did not tell him your status

    WHOM DO YOU BELIEVE IN THIS SCENARIO??

    The truth is many HIV+ men only want to sleep with another HIV+ person for this reason...the media and gay community sees you as a liar and a disease spreading individual no matter what measures you have taken as a mature responsible adult.

    Posted by: TrueWords | Aug 5, 2012 5:13:18 PM


  20. @Philip Wester - You win for the most ridiculous 3 paragraphs. Not only that, but dangerous ones as well. HIV was not transmitted. Protection was used and furthermore Rhoades has undetectable levels if HIV which makes trasmission all the more difficult. Plendl should be deeply ashamed of himself. He just ruined a man's life.

    And yes condoms aren't 100% absolutely perfect but it is dangerous to even remotely imply that they aren't reliable because they are. They are HIGHLY AND EXTREMELY effective. Driving isn't 100% safe either but people do it everyday.

    And I agree with Kenneth above. Some of the comments are appallng and deeply so.

    Posted by: Ark | Aug 5, 2012 5:13:48 PM


  21. i feel really bad for this guy that his life is now totally ruined BUT as a bottom, i have no sympathy. status is the FIRST thing i wanna hear outta your mouth. i don't care how "undetectable" you are, if you have tested positive for HIV i want to know. i probably would've called the cops too.

    Posted by: will. | Aug 5, 2012 5:27:23 PM


  22. Unless I'm reading the comments wrong, at least one person seems to believe that Plendl tested positive. He didn't. He tested negative, so there was no transmission of HIV, much less deliberate transmission (which would be criminal).

    The criminal charge is outrageous in this case. Yes, it would have been better if there had been an open discussion between the two men about HIV status before they had sex. But that discussion works both ways. Did Plendl ask his partner's status? If not, why would he assume he was negative? And, since they used a condom, taking reasonable precautions, it seems strange that Plendl would suffer such paralyzing fear, unless he is unusually paranoid, in which case maybe he should not have been having sex that was outside his personal risk comfort zone. (Everyone deals with risk differently.)

    As some others have said, if you're hooking up with people, assume they could be positive--or at least ask--because you can't assume everyone you hook up with is going to be negative or forthcoming. If you don't truly know a person's status, are you still willing to have protected sex? If not, don't have it.

    Would it have been better if Rhoades had disclosed his status? Absolutely. But some of the responses here suggest why people would be reluctant to do so--they'd become pariahs. If Rhoades had not taken precautions and had deliberately infected Plendl it would be a different matter. He shouldn't have served prison time or be on the sex offender registry at all.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 5, 2012 5:31:02 PM


  23. This is insane. Every individual is responsible for their own sexual health. You can NEVER know if your sexual partner is telling the truth or if they even KNOW the truth about their status and what they may or may not have been exposed to.
    You can't criminalize this man because other people are paranoid and stupid.
    He is NOT a sex offender. He did not engage in unconsentual sex, he didn't assault anyone, he didn't rape or expose himself to anyone without their permission, nor did have sex with a minor.
    This is abuse of what the Sex Offenders registry is supposed to be about.
    This will control where he can work, where he can live for the REST OF HIS LIFE because one trick was paranoid and insane.
    If you don't ever want to risk being exposed to a sexually transmitted disease or infection, DON'T HAVE SEX WITH ANYONE, EVER!
    I can't believe that other gay people would support this kind of demonization of HIV+ people. Why stop at HIV? Why not criminalize people with every other sexually transmitted disease/infection that someone might have or have been exposed to?
    This is outlandish.
    Yes, millions of people died of HIV and it's horrible for those of us who lived through it but this is like some kind of evil scifi fantasy plot. Unbelievable. I'm horrified at this case but even more at the people in my community who let their fear and frustration and anger about how HIV and AIDS has ravished our community lead them into thinking this is ok. IT IS NOT.

    Posted by: Persa | Aug 5, 2012 5:34:11 PM


  24. No long winded reply. Plendl made the choice to engage in sex with this man and both took precautions. He is not HIV positive. Where can I sign up to spit in his eye?

    Posted by: Mark C. | Aug 5, 2012 5:39:30 PM


  25. Two things:

    1) Did the HIV negative individual ask him what his status was?

    2) Once he found out the partner he just had protected safe sex with was positive did he search out PEP once he found out that he had little to no exposure to HIV?

    If this negative person is engaging sex with other men he should know how to protect himself fully and not rely on the honesty of other person.

    Posted by: Jeff | Aug 5, 2012 5:43:49 PM


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