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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Something Stinks in Buffalo: AIDS Denialism and The Case of Nushawn Williams

June 8, 2013

Nushawn Williams, the Jamestown man who gained national notoriety when accused of spreading the virus that causes AIDS, remains behind bars more than 15 years after his criminal offenses in Chautauqua County.
But when a 20-year-old Buffalo man admitted in 2011 to having unprotected sex with four young women and a 15-year-old girl while knowing he was infected with HIV, he was sentenced to a year in jail for his crimes.
“It was similar enough to say, ‘My God, the treatment was so different,’ ” said John R. Nuchereno, defense attorney for Williams.
Williams, now 36, was supposed to be freed in 2010, upon completing a 12-year sentence for a statutory rape and reckless endangerment conviction.
Yet, three years later, he remains in Wende State Correctional Facility because the state attorney general contends Williams is a sexual predator likely to infect others with HIV.
The trial, while not open to the public, is expected to draw plenty of interest, both from civil liberties groups troubled by the state’s civil confinement policy and from various HIV and AIDS organizations intrigued by the potential legal impacts of the case.
Nuchereno already has made the stunning claim in a pretrial hearing that Williams does not have HIV, based on a recent electron microscope analysis of his blood by the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.
The contention appears likely to be a crux of Williams’ defense, which is being aided by the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, a nonprofit organization based in Studio City, Calif.
The group runs the HIV Innocence Project and has used electron microscopy results in military trials to help defend soldiers accused of transmitting the virus to sexual partners.
G. Baron Coleman, an Alabama lawyer connected with the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice who has represented several soldiers, is expected to assist Nuchereno in at least a portion of his defense of Williams.
Lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office questioned the legitimacy of the electron microscope test and asked State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski to allow them to do their own analysis of Williams’ blood.
Rules of law prohibited Michalski from agreeing to the request.
But several medical professionals and HIV experts contacted by The News said the electron microscope was not an accepted method for finding HIV or for monitoring a patient infected with the virus.
“Electron microscopy is not, never has been and never will be an appropriate, relevant or approved way to detect HIV in the blood. Indeed, it’s beyond silly suggesting it could, would or should be used for this purpose,” said John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
‘A little bit out of left field’
Williams’ blood was analyzed in April by Gregory M. Hendricks, manager of the Core Electron Microscopy Facility at the UMass Medical School, who found “no evidence” of HIV, according to a letter he sent to the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice.
Dr. Joseph S. Cervia, clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, noted that blood tests screening for the presence of HIV antibodies have been used reliably for years to determine whether someone has HIV.
HIV, AIDS ‘denialists’
Seth Kalichman, an HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment researcher, expressed concern that the startling legal strategy in the Williams case will mislead people about accepted science with regard to diagnosing and treating HIV.
The Office of Medical and Scientific Justice and its executive director, Clark Baker, are HIV and AIDS denialists, Kalichman said.
And he said their efforts are potentially damaging to public health.
“They have no credibility. They’re not really scientists at all,” Kalichman said.
The organization has become adept at trying to manipulate juries in court-martial cases by raising suspicions about HIV tests and the influence of big pharmaceutical companies, he said.
And that’s potentially destructive, because some people who test HIV positive can’t deal with the reality and will seek out the misinformation put out by AIDS denialists as a source of comfort, said Kalichman.
“These guys provide them with a way out,” he said. “There have been people who have died because they listened to these people.”
HIV status matters
Baker, though, contends that the standard tests to detect HIV are unreliable and useless and that the electron microscope “is the only device that will see” the virus.
“If he’s infected with it, why wouldn’t it be there?” said Baker, who began examining Williams’ case in 2010.
Baker said he looked through hundreds of pages of Williams’ medical records and found no evidence of a proper HIV diagnosis.
“If you’re going to accuse somebody of being infected with HIV, you’d better have some evidence,” he said.
Authorities accused Williams of infecting at least 13 young Chautauqua County females, including a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old.
The case never went to trial, so the public didn’t get a close look at the criminal evidence against him.
Nuchereno said his client has been contacted over the years by numerous groups that “have offered assistance, including mainline HIV organizations because they see this as criminalization of a disease.”
Law affected plea deal
After completing his prison term for his admitted sex crimes, Williams now is subject to a law that was passed nearly eight years after he pleaded guilty with the understanding that he would be released from prison in no more than 12 years.
In effect, the plea deal has changed, even though Williams never consented to the changes.
“It’s really unforgiveable in 2013. This application of the law is informed by grossly outdated misunderstandings of HIV, and the state should really be ashamed about it,” said Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the Center for HIV Law & Policy in New York City.
Hanssens said we still don’t know “who infected who” in the Williams case, and the state’s civil confinement law makes it possible for anyone with HIV to be held indefinitely for infecting a sexual partner.
But Burstein maintained that the state has a case no matter what Williams’ HIV status may be because of Williams’ “known predatory behavior with young girls.”
“Regardless of whether he was positive or negative, that’s just unconscionable,” she said. “Developmentally, 13- and 15-year-olds don’t have the cognitive ability to understand what they’re consenting to.”
Thomas Shevory, who wrote a book chronicling the media spectacle around the case, said he has no idea whether the current legal strategy will persuade a jury.
But Shevory, who has kept in contact with Williams, is convinced Williams is not a threat and that he wants to get out of jail, get a job and be with his wife and four children in Virginia.
“At this point, for what he’s accused of, even if he’s guilty – which I’m not convinced of – 15 years is long enough,” said Shevory.


  1. The comment thread at the Buffalo News site devolved immediately into Denialist Crazy-Talk. Their desperation is transparent.

  2. Clark Baker is now trying to claim that the "tests" conducted by Gregory Hendricks were never for the purpose of diagnosis of HIV infection status. In an affidavit in another case, Clark states under oath that:

    "On 22 April 2013, Trial Counsel in United States v. [redacted] contacted Jeanne Lawrence PhD, Chair and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the U. Mass Medical School, alleging that Hendricks may have used his position at the Core Electron Microscopy Facility 'to accomplish HIV testing of human blood samples for treatment or diagnostic purposes.' This assertion is false. Dr. Hendricks has prepared research reports for cases where OMSJ has been retained or is serving pro bono as an investigative consultant. These reports are used not for treatment or diagnostic purposes, but rather to present relevant evidence in pending investigations."

    Right... for "research", not for "diagnosis".

    Unfortunately for Clark, this claim is unequivocally contradicted by statements on the public record by Nushawn Williams' attorney, John Nuchenero:

    "He [Williams] never had it for a moment. It’s not my contention. It’s the result of a University of Massachusetts Medical School examination of his blood." [...]

    Nuchereno called the results of the test "quite shocking." He said Williams, 36, was confused when he first learned of the results in April.

    "He has been vilified for a decade and a half across this country," Nuchereno said.

    Williams believed he was HIV positive for years because that’s what he was told, Nuchereno added.

    "Back then there were many false positives," he said. "The testing was in its infancy back then."

    Following the civil trial, Nuchereno said, he will use the electron microscope findings as new evidence in an effort to overturn Williams’ 1999 conviction.

    Someone also needs to explain to Clark that you don't try to wriggle out of conducting illegal testing for diagnostic purposes by pretending it is just "research".

    Conducting unauthorised medical research using human subjects is just as unlawful as conducting unaccredited testing for diagnostic purposes. Perhaps OMSJ's Chief Science Officer David Rasnick could fill Clark in on the subject, given his extensive experience in the field of illegal human experimentation.

    1. Baker's pretence that the EM test was for "research" rather than to aid diagnosis is betrayed by his own words in this article:

      "Baker, though, contends that the standard tests to detect HIV are unreliable and useless and that the electron microscope 'is the only device that will see' the virus.

      "'If he’s infected with it, why wouldn’t it be there?' said Baker, who began examining Williams’ case in 2010."

      Baker is claiming here that not only is his EM test a valid diagnostic test, but it's the only valid diagnostic test.

      But even if you accept that this test was part of a "research" project rather than an aid to diagnosis, then which institutional review board (ethics committee) is providing the legally mandated oversight for this "research"?

      And what is the purpose of this "research"? Is it to see what happens when a black man with a chronic infectious disease is lied to and told he doesn't have it and not to treat it?

      Hasn't that "research" been done before?

  3. I did not know truly divided and how much in-fighting there is in the "dissident" camp. Celia Farber was discussing at RA facebook how much Liam Scheff hates her...(Knoll and Brink hate her too). I thought the leaders of the group at least were united, but I guess not.

    Liam Scheff, however, is the biggest nut bag of all of them. He believes and promotes every conspiracy theory out there. If there is a consensus about anything, Scheff promotes the exact opposite.

    It must really be a sad life to have such a severe mental pathology.

  4. This probably belongs with the article AIDS and Climate Change: Are All Denialists Created Equal? but it looks like Clark Baker has managed to get a climate change denial website to branch out into HIV/AIDS denial.

    Crank magnetism strikes again.

    The website in question has the ridiculously self-important name of Principia Scientific International .

    Some of their members are not too happy. Climate change denial is a hard enough sell - given the fact that 97% of climate scientists accept anthropogenic global warming - without deliberately associating yourself with out and out crackpots like HIV/AIDS denialists.

  5. Here's another update to a bit of old news:

    Readers will recall that Celia Farber tried to sue Richard Jefferys for saying what everyone knows - i.e that she is an HIV/AIDS denialist liar.

    Her case was thrown out of the New York Supreme Court.

    Not satisfied with this, she then tried appealing to the Appellate Court, which duly administered a Public Spanking With Costs .

    Unfortunately, it seems she has been unable to resist the temptation to thrust her bare buttocks at the courts yet again for a third time.

    Result: yet another spanking.

  6. Im just wondering why the CDC (that other aids organisations point to) have pictures of HIV on their website, done with electron microscopy no less , taken back in 1983 !

    Are they not proof of the existence of HIV ?

    1. Obviously they are. But those pictures were taken in special circumstances to ensure there was something to see. The field of view for an electron micrograph is very small. You could take millions of pictures before being guaranteed to see everything in a mL of blood. Now in that milliliter, there might be a few hundred to a few thousand viral particles. Possibly less, particularly because Nushawn is on medication. The odds are you won't see one the first time or the second or the twentieth or the thousandth. But they are in there.

      For the CDC pictures, they let the virus replicate in a petri dish of CD4+ cells and added mitogens to speed the reproductive cycle. Thus there were billions upon billions of viuses and a guarantee that the cells would be budding them.

    2. Arent all laboratory tests including electron microscopy tests done under special conditions for special circumstances incase there is chatter or debri ? One would think those conditions would be more than improved and advance thirty years on making it much easier and cheaper to view these things in the blood , or , are labs still living in the dark ages ?

      On a ml of blood under a viral load test of say a 100,000 particles pml , wouldnt you say the same draw of blood would show up at least one of those particles under EM , i mean , thats what Montagnier's claim was right , that he photographed the same without the use of PCR ? , which id say after reading your version he was extremely lucky to find thirty years ago.

      And heres another thing bugging me , if its said that HIV mutates , then wouldnt one need a new test each time it did to detect it ?

      Sounds to me like they either found hens teeth in 1983 , or they didnt. So how fortunate for Galo on the otherside of the world to have found the same hens teeth without a mutation , the exact same !

      The only thing i see mutating are excuses from AIDS Inc year after year to sell more drugs and fund more vaccines.

      Thats just my opinion you understand.

    3. NO. You are confusing two different things. What we call a HIGH viral load means an amount of virus showing the patient is not controlling the infection. But it doesn't mean the virus is actually taking up most of the space in the blood. The virus is in the blood. It is, however, rare. Even in a patient with terminal AIDS and no more immune system to eliminate the virus, the viremia is still limited by practical concerns, how many cells there are to replicate in, how many uninfected cells are necessary to keep the patient alive, and how much virus you can have before the patient keels over.

      100,000 particles per ml is a very high viral load, by biological standards. It basically indicates the body is not keeping the virus in check, and that viral replication is fast overwhelming the replacement of cells. But by the amount of virus that can actually fit in a milliliter, it is pathetically low. This is because viruses are tiny; each virus is <100 nanometers in diameter. That means that even 100,000 particles take up a volume of less than a trillionth of a milliliter.

      To see a particle, you need to zoom in a heck of a lot. But to zoom in, you pick out a tiny sample of the milliliter of blood and look at it. And since the viruses are a very small portion of the volume, you have a very good chance of picking a part without the virus in it.

      However, if the virus is there, you can replicate it billions upon billions of times in a petri dish and get way higher viral loads than possible in the body. THEN, you are are far more likely to see something. And since you cannot multiply what isn't there, we can then go back and say that the virus must have been in the original blood sample. That is what they did to discover HIV.

      But that is not what they did here. Here, they just looked at a sample without multiplying it. Of course, you could get lucky. And you will never get lucky looking at a sample of an uninfected person, so the specificity is top notch. The problem is the sensitivity is horrendous. You could look at a million positive samples without seeing a viral particle, even if the load is quite high.

      And Nushawn Williams is on medication, so his viral load is nowhere close to 100,000 making the task even harder.

      "And heres another thing bugging me , if its said that HIV mutates , then wouldnt one need a new test each time it did to detect it ? "
      HIV mutates very rapidly, but there are what are called conserved portions of the genome. These code for essential area necessary for the virus to replicate, for example the tiny portion of gp41 and gp120 that form the binding pocket and allow viral fusion or that encode certain parts of the capsid necessary for structural integrity. The virus cannot survive with mutations there, so circulating, infectious copies share those portions of RNA. One would think the parts of protein coded by these conserved regions of gemome would make great targets for drugs or antibodies, but that is easier said than done. HIV cloaks the binding pocket of gp41 deep with other parts of the protein, which can vary without harm to the virus. Since those are the most exposed portions, antibodies usually target there. B cells are not smart enough to specifically construct antibodies to parts that can't change; they target what is exposed and don't spend a year researching the most effective spot.

    4. never read so much bullshit in all my life.

    5. Yet you cannot argue with it.

  7. In special circumstances ? Dont you think everyone has a right to see what others are claiming before poisoning them to death ?