Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Updated (5/3/07) HIV Trial Proceedings Closed To The Public

I had always thought you could always walk into a court room and observe the proceedings just because you were interested in the case. I figured most juvenile cases would be closed to the public unless you were somehow involved in the case. I'm a voter and a tax payer so I'm the judge and prosecutors boss/supervisor. I should be able to walk into that court room and see how they handle their job at any time shouldn't I? Imagine my surprise when I read this St. Joseph News-Press article.

5/1/07


HIV trial proceedings closed to the public

Aaron Bailey
Courthouse reporter

A jury trial began Monday for a Kansas City man accused of knowingly infecting a St. Joseph woman with HIV through sexual contact.

Sean L. Sykes, 33, faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted due to his prior conviction about 10 years ago on two similar charges. A Jackson County jury found Mr. Sykes guilty in 1997 of knowingly infecting two women with HIV, which was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The case made national headlines as Mr. Sykes' appeal was denied. He received a sentence of 10 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Buchanan County prosecutors allege that after being paroled from prison, Mr. Sykes had consensual sexual contact with a St. Joseph woman between December 2003 and December 2004. Mr. Sykes allegedly never told the woman he was HIV positive. The woman then contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, a potentially fatal disease.

Monday's proceedings - as well as the remainder of the three-day trial - have been closed to the public. One of Mr. Sykes' public defenders, Michelle Davidson, filed a motion in November to exclude the public. Circuit Judge Daniel Kellogg said Monday that he sustained the motion due to the sensitive nature of the charges and to protect the potential witnesses from exposure.

Closing a criminal trial is "very unusual" for any reason, said Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association. There has been one other trial closed to the public in Missouri relating to HIV, but that case was closed to prevent the release of medical information, she said. Circuit Clerk Mary Beattie couldn't recall the last time a criminal trial was closed in Buchanan County Circuit Court.

Buchanan County Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Scroggins said that closing the proceedings could be the determining factor for a victim to press charges. If a victim of a similar crime knew that the court proceedings were open to the public, they might not come forward, Mr. Scroggins said.

"If someone believes that what goes on will be public knowledge," he said, "it has a chilling effect for anyone coming forward and disclosing (information)..."

It has been the policy of the News-Press and other media organizations to withhold the names of certain victims, including those in sexual assaults and cases involving juveniles, even when the trials are open to the public.

Ms. Maneke said that keeping criminal proceedings open to the public is crucial to a democratic justice system.

"First of all, it's a court proceeding. The courts have always been open to the public...," she said. "When you start closing court proceedings, you've got the beginnings of secret courts in the state of Missouri."

Jury selection dominated Monday's proceedings, but attorneys were able to make opening statements, and one witness was called for the prosecution. The jury consists of eight women and five men, including the alternate, all of whom are Caucasian.

Mr. Sykes has been charged with the Class A felony of knowingly infecting someone with HIV, or if he's found guilty, the jury has the option to convict Mr. Sykes of the lesser crime of Class B felony recklessly exposing someone to HIV. He faces a sentence of 10 to 30 years, or life imprisonment, Mr. Scroggins said.

Attorneys for both sides said they were optimistic that the case will be handed to the jury on Wednesday, despite the lengthy jury selection process.



I'm not even going to get into what I think they should do with Mr. Sykes, this is going to be an interesting case. I don't like the idea of closed court rooms/secret courts. If they do it once they will do it again. I don't know about you but I don't think I'd care to be the accused in a closed court room/secret court.

Thanks go to:
The St. Joseph News-Press

God Bless America, God Save The Republic


Updated 5/3/07


The jury has reached a verdict. I thought I'd update this. I was not surprised by the verdict.


Spreading HIV nets man guilty verdict

Aaron Bailey
Courthouse reporter

A Kansas City man faces life in prison after a jury decided Wednesday that he knowingly exposed a St. Joseph woman to HIV.

It took a jury about two and a half hours to convict Sean L. Sykes of exposing the woman through consensual sexual contact to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Mr. Sykes was convicted by a Kansas City jury on two similar charges in 1997 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Mr. Sykes showed no emotion when the jury read the verdict and remained slumped in his chair next to his public defenders as the jury exited the courtroom. There were no family members or friends of Mr. Sykes present - the only spectators were legal aides and media.

Because of his prior convictions, Mr. Sykes, 33, faces between 10 years and life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

Mr. Sykes faced a Class A charge of knowingly "giving" someone HIV without permission or consent, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser Class B felony of "exposing" someone to HIV.

Prosecutors alleged that after being paroled from prison, Mr. Sykes had consensual sexual contact with a St. Joseph woman between December 2003 and December 2004. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kathleen Fisher argued that Mr. Sykes never informed the woman he was HIV positive. The woman later contracted HIV.

Mr. Sykes' public defender, Michelle Carpenter, argued that the woman knew he was infected with HIV and agreed to sexual contact knowing the danger of contracting the virus.

In a rare move, the three-day trial was closed to the public after Buchanan County Circuit Judge Daniel Kellogg sustained a motion by Mr. Sykes' public defenders to exclude the public during. Mr. Kellogg said he made the decision due to the nature of the charges and to protect the witnesses from exposure.

The verdict was opened to the public, but cameras weren't allowed in the courtroom.

Only one other criminal trial was closed to the public in Missouri relating to HIV, according to Jean Maneke, an attorney with the Missouri Press Association, but the reasoning was to protect medical information.

A juror told the News-Press that the St. Joseph woman who was infected by Mr. Sykes testified Tuesday morning. Although the juror called the woman's testimony "emotional," he also said it was difficult to believe. He added that both Mr. Sykes and the woman had "shady" lifestyles, making it difficult to decide who was more truthful.

Public Defender Michelle Davidson said the defense presented evidence of a notarized statement that the woman knew Mr. Sykes was infected with HIV before engaging in sexual contact. Ms. Fisher said there was "conflicting" evidence that the woman wrote a letter stating she knew of Mr. Sykes' condition.

Mr. Sykes' earlier conviction in Jackson County was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which upheld the convictions. It's unclear if anyone in Missouri has ever been convicted three times of infecting someone with HIV.

Mr. Sykes will be sentenced June 12 at 8:30 a.m. in Division 4. He remains in custody at the Law Enforcement Center in lieu of $250,000 bond.


I find it hard to believe that anyone would agree to have sex with someone they knew had tested positive for HIV, "Mr. Sykes' public defender, Michelle Carpenter, argued that the woman knew he was infected with HIV and agreed to sexual contact knowing the danger of contracting the virus." but there are some real strange people out there. I guess we will never know since there were no spectators allowed in the court room.

Thanks go to:
The St. Joseph News-Press

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's 'with this monkey???'

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not right that the court was closed to the public regardless of the privacy involved. This man has done this crime before and obviously will continue until he is given the bad reputation that he deserves. No matter if the females knew he was infected or not, the court proceedings still should have been open to public viewing.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Jenna said...

Honestly, as much as I hate to see a victim victimized by the public humiliation of a trial, closing the proceedings to the public only perpetuates the very cycle it's supposed to be trying to stop.

Why protect this woman's identity? She's now infected with HIV, and with the court-approved anonymity, free to spread the disease to anyone who hasn't heard of this case.

Call me an insensitive, uninfected jackass if you will, but I believe that all HIV patients should be marked with a tattoo on the hip or buttock. This would be invisible to anyone who has no reason to see that person naked. Anyone who does would no longer have to rely on the promise of a long-time (or single-serving) lover that he/she is "safe." You could sleep with a person for years without them ever finding the courage to tell you that they have AIDS. One careless night and oopsie... can't take that one back!

We've got to get over this public pity of the HIV-positive and realize that people (especially men) will lie about anything that will get them laid. If we ever find a cure for it, then free laser surgery for all! Until then, we've got to find a better way to stop the spread of HIV than trusting people to use condoms and tell the truth!

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Blogger boatdog said...

i think that if the victims wanted it confidential that is their right but if not then it is not right that they hide it from the world too see what i scum bag he is. he should not have no rights for what he did.

i think cheating and premarital sex should be illegal. it is a law in the bible under adultery but not in our courts. i think that would slow it down.

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