In a rare prosecution relating to exposure to the AIDS virus, Nushawn J. Williams was indicted yesterday in the Bronx on a felony charge of reckless endangerment by having unprotected sex with a teen-age girl months after he learned he was infected with H.I.V.
The grand jury indictment of Mr. Williams, 21, appeared to mark the first time in New York City that a reckless endangerment charge had been brought in an H.I.V.-related case, Bronx prosecutors said.
Mr. Williams, who became the subject of a national furor last year after he was said to have infected more than a dozen women and girls in rural Chautauqua County in upstate New York, was accused of having sex with the girl, who was 15, in the Bronx in May 1997. The authorities said Mr. Williams had received counseling about H.I.V. and its dangers in September 1996.
Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx District Attorney, would not say yesterday whether the girl had tested positive for the AIDS virus.
Mr. Williams was also indicted on charges of attempted assault, sexual misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child. Bronx prosecutors said yesterday that they are continuing their investigation against him.
Mr. Williams's lawyer, William Cember, said his client had pleaded not guilty to the Bronx charges.
Until yesterday, the only charge Mr. Williams had faced in his suspected encounters with girls and women was in the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in Chautauqua County. Prosecutors there have not filed any charges linked to Mr. Williams's H.I.V. status. However, the Chautauqua County District Attorney, James Subjack, has said that he would pursue assault charges against Mr. Williams in those instances in which the suspect knew the risk before he had sex.
Chautauqua County investigators have identified 48 sexual partners of Mr. Williams's. In addition to the 13 women and girls who tested positive for H.I.V., 28 have tested negative and 7 have not been tested.
Mr. Williams has told health officials that he had sex with 50 to 75 women in New York City, but in many instances could not provide a name or address so officials have been unable to trace many of them.
Mr. Williams left upstate New York in early 1997, after living there for more than a year. He moved back to New York City, where he grew up, and in September 1997 he was charged with selling crack cocaine in the Bronx. He was sentenced to one to three years in state prison earlier this week on the drug charges.
In a number of states, reckless endangerment and assault laws have been used to prosecute people who knowingly or negligently expose or transmit H.I.V. to others. The outbreak of H.I.V. cases in Chautauqua County also prompted a flurry of proposals across the country for tougher laws related to testing for the virus, disclosure of H.I.V. status and punishments for transmitting or exposing others to the virus.
About 60 H.I.V.-related bills were introduced in the last legislative session in New York. One proposal, which is vehemently opposed by advocates for people with AIDS, would impose criminal penalties on a person with H.I.V. who failed to warn an uninformed partner. The advocates say existing reckless endangerment and assault laws are adequate.
Anthony Girese, the counsel to the Bronx District Attorney, said yesterday that an H.I.V.-specific statute would make it easier to prosecute cases like Mr. Williams's, but might also apply too broadly to cases of unintentional exposure and transmission.
With the reckless endangerment charge, Mr. Girese said, prosecutors will have to prove that Mr. Williams's conduct created a grave risk of death and that he was aware of that risk. "That's a fairly high burden," he said.
In New York, many health experts and advocates for people with AIDS say the Williams case played a role in the passage earlier this summer of the new partner notification law. Lawmakers voted by a wide margin in June to require that the names of H.I.V. positive people be reported to the state and that government workers ask infected people to name their sexual partners so they can be notified that they are at risk.