A male nurse testified Thursday that a man infected with the AIDS virus bit through a rubber glove and left two puncture wounds on his hand, while a hospital emergency room staff struggled to restrain him after a failed suicide attempt.
Donald Weber, a nurse at Villa View Community Hospital in East San Diego, testified at the beginning of a preliminary hearing for Steven Paul Prior. Prior, 32, has been charged by the district attorney with two counts of attempted murder after he bit Weber and another nurse. The case is believed to be the first of its kind in San Diego County.
Prosecutors allege that Prior acted with intent to kill when he bit the nurses on July 16 because he knew that he was carrying the AIDS virus. The district attorney's decision to charge Prior with attempted murder created a controversy when critics said little medical evidence exists that AIDS can be transmitted by biting.
On Thursday, Weber testified that Prior never threatened him with death before biting his hand. Deputy Public Defender Bill Youmans also asked Weber if Prior had ever told him he had AIDS and that we was going to give Weber the disease.
But, before Weber could answer, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gordon Davis objected to the question as hearsay. Davis based his objection on previous testimony by Weber that Prior was screaming profanities on the night of the incident, but said that he could remember little else of what Prior said.
Municipal Judge Harvey Hiber sustained Davis' objection, prompting a complaint by Youmans. The defense attorney argued unsuccessfully that Weber should be allowed to answer the question because prosecutors are charging Prior with a crime that alleges he had a premeditated plan to kill Weber and another nurse, Michael Mangonian.
Weber said Prior was distraught when he was brought to the hospital, after attempting suicide by swallowing an overdose of AZT, a drug used by AIDS patients to slow the progress of the disease. Prosecutors said Prior is suffering from AIDS-related complex, or ARC, a term used to describe the stage of the disease before full-blown AIDS develops.
Prior was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric intensive care unit, where he became violent several hours later, about 3:30 a.m. Weber said about seven hospital staff members, including himself, attempted to restrain Prior.
During the outburst, Prior removed a nasal tube and intravenous tube from his arm, causing blood to flow from his nose, mouth and arm, prosecutors said. It was during this struggle that Prior allegedly bit Weber.
"I noticed that the patient had my hand in his mouth. . . . I noticed that the rubber gloves had been ripped," Weber testified.
He said that he felt a "tugging sensation" on his left hand.
"I knew it was a bite . . . my hand was covered with blood," Weber said.
He testified that Prior bit him between the thumb and forefinger on an area "larger than a half dollar." The blood on his hand came from Prior and the bite on his hand, he said.
Weber said he cleaned the bite with a cotton swab dipped in bleach and added that he did not see the two punctures bleed after he cleaned them.
Prior became concerned after the incident and asked him if he was hurt, Weber testified.
"He looked up at me and asked me if I had been hurt. I said I didn't know," Weber said. " . . . . I was in a state of shock that I had been bitten."
Davis, the prosecutor, had requested that the judge order the press not to print or broadcast the nurses' names. After the hearing, Davis said he acted on requests by Weber and Mangonian, who were concerned about the effect the incident could have on their families and careers.
Hiber issued an order prohibiting the disclosure of the names. He later modified it to a "request" when reporters from the San Diego Union and San Diego Tribune objected that Hiber was imposing a prior restraint on the press. The reporters threatened a legal challenge to the court's order.
In an interview after the hearing, Davis said Weber and Mangonian had requested that he "keep their names out of the paper" because they were concerned about the stigma attached to AIDS. Although previous stories of the incident have made it clear that Weber is charged with biting the two nurses, Davis said "when most people think of AIDS, they think of sex."
This is the second San Diego County case in recent years involving someone infected with AIDS who has faced criminal charges for biting someone.
In 1988, a San Diego jury acquitted a man of battery on two police officers, who charged the man with biting them during the 1986 Gay Pride Parade in Hillcrest. The district attorney's office had attempted unsuccessfully to upgrade the charge to assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the AIDS virus.