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EXISTING LAWS AREN'T ENOUGH FOR WALKING EPIDEMIC

THERE'S NO PUNISHMENT that fits this crime.

That's the problem.

There's no law on the books that adequately deals with what Nushawn Williams did.

Williams was a walking epidemic. A viral version of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The 20-year-old dirtbag -- knowing he was HIV-positive -- had sex with dozens of young women in Chautauqua County, trading sex for drugs. He left the virus in at least 10 of them. The count may go far higher. Williams named more than 50 women he had sex with across the state.

It wasn't as if he put a gun to each of their heads. But he might as well have.

Not every sexual contact passes along the virus. With new treatments, the infected can live for many years. And there's always the possibility of a cure.

But the man still played Russian Roulette with the lives of these young women. And all of the people with whom they've since had sex. And any offspring that comes from any of the contacts.

It's a geometric progression, a ripple that keeps repeating, possibly across generations.

Just punishment for that crime involves devices not used since the Middle Ages.

At least 10 of the women, including a 13-year-old, have the virus. At least one of the men who had sex with one of William's partners is infected.

Police don't know whether Williams intentionally passed along the virus, or whether he's simply a depraved idiot.

The pity is we can't do more about it.

He'll be charged with raping the 13-year-old girl. With the others, prosecutors have charged him with reckless endangerment and first-degree assault.

We've got laws against shooting people and selling illegal drugs and forcing someone to have sex against their will. There is no law against deliberately infecting someone with a deadly disease.

"We need a law directly concerned with conduct that knowingly transmits a communicable disease," said Frank Clark, the Erie County district attorney. "The way it is now, we're forced to modify what we've got, to try to make it fit."

In a few cases nationally, HIV-positive men who've raped teen-age girls were convicted of attempted murder. Prosecutors still might take that road with Williams. But even the stuff he's charged with -- reckless endangerment and first-degree assault -- may be tough to prove.

At least some women who'd have sex with a drug-dealing stranger aren't overly discriminating. Are they sure he's the one they got the virus from? Can a jury be convinced of it beyond a reasonable doubt?

Reckless endangerment -- conduct that creates a substantial risk of death -- is a Class D felony. The sentence is 2 1/3 to 7 years. It's a light load for the heavy sentence Williams inflicted on his victims.

If any of his victims die, Williams could be looking at a murder or manslaughter rap. But people who carry the virus may not contract AIDS for years.

"The longer the time span from the original offense," said Clark, "the harder it is to gather evidence. And in each of these cases, you've only got one person who could testify to back up the charges."

If nothing else, this ought to end any lingering debate about AIDS education in school. And remove any thought that this is specifically a "gay" disease. There are at least 10 women in Chautauqua County who prove otherwise.

More than that, we need laws that would put the next Nushawn Williams behind bars for the rest of his sorry life.

Granted, it gets tricky. Would a new law include people who knowingly pass along syphilis or other diseases? Would it cover longtime partners who kept having sex after one was infected?

"You'd have to be careful about it," said Clark. "But with the current laws, no question, we're handicapped in prosecuting somebody like this."

A predator carrying a deadly virus, preying on young women.

Nushawn Williams marched on. A walking crime wave. Without just punishment.

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