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Man With AIDS Virus Gets 5 Life Terms in Rape Case

March 25, 1994|MIKE CLARY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MIAMI — An HIV-positive man convicted of attempted murder in the rape of three boys was sentenced Thursday to five consecutive life terms. He is believed to be the first person in the nation convicted of attempted murder for using the AIDS virus as a deadly weapon during a rape.

Ignacio A. Perea Jr., 32, was found guilty by a jury Feb. 28 of attempted murder, kidnaping, lewd and lascivious assault and sexual battery in a case that has broken new legal ground and outraged the community.

"This case is every parent's worst nightmare," said Assistant State Atty. Susan Dechovitz.

After accepting Perea's no-contest pleas and finding him guilty in two other sexual batteries, Circuit Judge Michael B. Chavies sentenced Perea to the maximum penalties on each of 23 criminal charges, meaning that he would have to serve a mandatory minimum of 100 years in prison.

Calling his offenses "unparalleled in this court's mind," Chavies told Perea: "It is my intention that you serve the rest of your natural life in a maximum security prison."

Perea's defense attorney, Harold Keefe, called the charges, as well as the sentence, "overkill." He said his client is on the verge of developing full-blown AIDS. "Five years would be a death sentence," Keefe said. Perea's attorneys said they will appeal the conviction.

"This is basically new terrain," said University of Miami law professor Bruce Winick. "It's not criminalizing the disease, but criminalizing someone with the disease who rapes. It's attempted murder in a new way."

Some AIDS activists, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concern about the precedent that the conviction sets, saying that the defendant's medical condition has no bearing on other crimes alleged and tends to exacerbate the social stigma that already affects those with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

The sentencing followed an hour of emotional testimony from two of Perea's three victims, all of whom have tested negative for HIV. Both boys, who were 11 and 15 at the time of the attacks, said that since the assaults, they dwell on thoughts of suicide and have sought psychological counseling.

The third victim, who was not in court, also was 11 years old when he was assaulted.

Family members wept as Dechovitz recounted details of the crimes, which she described as "heinous, atrocious and cruel."

In the case on which Perea was tried and found guilty, he was accused of snatching one of the 11-year-olds off his bicycle in September, 1991, tossing him blindfolded to the floor of a car and driving him to a warehouse.

There, Perea and an accomplice, who has not been arrested, raped the boy and forced him to perform sex acts on them, prosecutors said.

Perea, who has maintained his innocence and did not testify at his trial, was arrested after police found a picture of him taken by a surveillance camera as he stood behind the boy in a store.

At the time of the arrest, Perea had in his pocket a receipt from a clinic that indicated he had tested positive for HIV.

Even though there is no evidence that Perea intended to kill his victims, Dechovitz said he was charged with attempted murder because he knew he carried the virus and he knew the virus was deadly.

"The analogy I've made is to a firearm," she said. "Guns are legal to carry and own, but you are expected to behave responsibly. If you shoot at someone and miss, you can still be found guilty of attempted first-degree murder."

Perea's attorneys, Keefe and co-counsel Paul Morris, said the conviction offers several grounds for appeal, including the emotional effect the HIV charge may have had on the jury.

In similar cases, all in Oregon, a man was convicted of attempted murder in 1992 for exposing a 17-year-old girl to the AIDS virus during consensual sex. In another case, an HIV-positive man was charged with attempted murder for the rape of children but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

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