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Woman infected with AIDS wants law changed to protect others



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New York Daily News

(KRT)

NEW YORK - They met in class at a Queens technical college in 1998.

She remembers his sense of humor, his quick mind. He was remarkably upbeat, even though he spent life in a wheelchair because of his sickle-cell anemia.

"He's like an angel," she remembered thinking of Keith Brennan. They started dating.

About three years into their relationship, she stumbled onto some of Brennan's medical records while trying to fix his laptop computer.

She found out the horrible truth: Brennan did not have sickle-cell anemia. He was HIV positive.

A few months later came even worse news: She also was HIV positive.

"I did nothing to him, nothing, I helped him," the 31-year-old teacher's aide told the New York Daily News. "I'm the one who cooked and cleaned. I'm the one who shopped for him. I'm the one who went everywhere with him. I took care of him when he was sick.

"And then he does this to me."

The News is withholding the identity of the woman, who now lives in Maryland. She is uncomfortable talking about her past, fearing that it could destroy her anonymity.

But there is one thing the woman does want with all her heart - justice.

New York state has no law that addresses her situation - a criminal act where someone knowingly infects another person with the AIDS virus.

"Before I die, I want to change the law," she said in an exclusive interview in her Maryland home. "It should be a felony. You're taking someone's life. You can't just say you're sorry and go back in there and fix it. I told him, `You might as well go and put a gun to my head and shoot me.'"

They had a life together.

They would travel a lot, stay in nice hotels, go to Atlantic City and he'd blow lots of cash gambling, she said. She helped him gain some independence, helped find his own apartment in Brooklyn and helped him with chores.

Then came the day she found out Brennan had the AIDS virus, had had it since he was 15, when he contracted it through a blood transfusion.

"It was Jan. 5, 2001, about 3 p.m., a Friday," she says, crying easily at the memory. "It was a rainy day, a very dark day, a dark day for me."

She took the laptop. He called the cops and had her arrested for grand larceny.

She was suspended from her job. Her adolescent son was frightened. Her father stopped talking to her.

Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges after Brennan admitted he suffered from a spinal problem related to the AIDS virus, and she told them that she had contracted HIV from him.

That wasn't good enough.

She pressured prosecutors to file charges against Brennan, now 34.

She called police, she called politicians, she put up posters looking for other victims. She tried to hire lawyers, but none took her seriously, she said.

And there was no law against what Brennan had done.

"She is one of the strongest, most courageous, dogged individuals I've encountered in 19 years as a prosecutor," said Queens Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Appelbaum.

Her determination paid off when Brennan was finally charged with reckless endangerment. Without a specific law, however, prosecutors eventually offered him a deal, and last week he was sentenced to probation by Queens Criminal Court Judge Pauline Mullings.

"I have been given a life sentence of death because I trusted and loved someone," she said in a hushed Queens courtroom last week, standing 5 feet from Brennan. "You damaged my soul."

Brennan has said nothing, though his lawyer denied that they had sex in the "traditional way" and was restricted to activities that have not been known to transmit HIV.

"He's lying," she told The News, remembering the first time they had sex at Brennan's father's house about a month after they started dating. "He had a box of condoms, a big box."

Eventually, he pressured her to stop using the condoms, she said.

She does not have any AIDS-related symptoms, but illnesses are harder to battle, and she believes she will die of the virus within 20 years. Her one goal is to make sure nobody else suffers as she did.

"I try to put a smile on my face. I try to talk, I try to laugh. But I'm not happy. I'm not the same person."

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(c) 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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