Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Denise M. Bonilla
Times Staff Writer

Prostitute with HIV sentenced to 10 years

The 33-year-old, diagnosed with the virus in prison more than a decade ago, had pleaded no contest to his felony charge.

A man convicted of prostitution for a fifth time since he was diagnosed as HIV-positive was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday.

Donnie Ray Bobo, 33, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of prostitution and made no comment before he was sentenced in the Compton courthouse.

"His background is grim, his prospects are even more grim, and his characteristics are such that every time he gets out of prison, he gets back on the street and renders someone else susceptible to the HIV virus," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John T. Doyle said before imposing the sentence.

Prostitution is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor, but it is a felony if the defendant has tested HIV-positive before the arrest. Bobo tested positive in prison more than 10 years ago.

Bella Dilworth, Bobo's attorney, refused to comment on the sentencing, saying only that "they overreact to a lot of tragic things."

Doyle said the 10-year term was "one of the lengthier sentences I would have imposed" in a prostitution case. In giving the sentence, he said, he was helping protect society.

"I'd rather have someone put a .357 Magnum to my head than die so painfully with this virus," Doyle said outside of court.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lori-Ann Jones said she asked for a long sentence for Bobo to try to end the "horrible cycle" she said occurs when HIV-positive prostitutes infect their clients, who in turn infect their families.

In July 2002, Jones pushed for a nine-year sentence in the case of Panchita Hall, a woman convicted of prostitution six times after testing positive for HIV. Hall received less than two years.

Robert E. Kalunian, chief deputy for the Los Angeles County public defender's office, said felony prostitution charges are uncommon. Bobo's 10-year sentence for the crime is even more unusual, experts said.

"I haven't heard of a sentence this harsh before, but there are unique circumstances," said Loyola Marymount University law professor Laurie Levenson. "They're almost treating it the same way as serious assaults or an attempted-murder case."

But with the potential spread of HIV in prison, Levenson said, she is not sure what the result of this ruling will be.

"There are big question marks as to whether this is the solution for dealing with people with HIV," she said.

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Created: May 2, 2003
Last modified: May 2, 2003
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