Chattanooga wife says husband gave her HIV

Chattanooga wife says husband gave her HIV

July 30th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

James Hutchins

After a doctor called with the lab results, life would never be the same for a 29-year-old Chattanooga woman.

She learned her husband of nearly five years had given her HIV. He'd never even told her he had it, even though she's pregnant with his child.

"That day changed my life forever," she said. "Just because he didn't pull the trigger doesn't mean this is not a murder."

Now James Hutchins, 46, is in Hamilton County Jail facing a charge of criminal exposure to HIV -- the second time he has been arrested for the offense. In 1999, he received a six-month jail sentence and was placed on probation for five years when he infected someone else, according to court records.

"He was there when I found out I was pregnant. He was there when they drew the blood. He knew the secret was going to come out," said the woman, who asked not to be named. "He moved out April 4; I found out April 6."

When she confronted him about the pregnancy test results, he denied he was HIV positive and said he was going to be tested, she said.

The child growing inside her may be positive, too. Although she's seven months pregnant, she said she doesn't know.

Antiviral medication can be given to pregnant mothers to try to prevent spreading HIV to the fetus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A cesarean delivery also can be used to protect the infant, the CDC says.

Hutchins declined an interview request Thursday. He remains in jail on a $10,000 bond and his next court date is set for Aug. 2 in front of General Sessions Court Judge David Bales.

After finding out she was HIV positive, a friend told her stepfather that Hutchins was positive, too, and had a prior conviction for giving someone else HIV.

The couple met online in 2006 and married in 2007. At the time she met him, she was working two jobs to support her three children from a previous relationship.

"To marry me and go into a church in front of God with a pack of lies," she said. "His father told me he had a wild lifestyle. I didn't. Now I'm being punished. People are going to look at me differently all because somebody lied to me. I'll never know why he did it. ... This man lied to me the whole way through."

Jerry Evans, assistant executive director of Chattanooga CARES, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, said it's rare that people don't disclose their HIV status. If Hutchins is not taking medication, the risk is higher to pass on the virus, Evans said.

Hutchins has never been treated by CARE, Evans said.

And Hutchins' wife said that, during the five years they were together, he never took medication to treat HIV.

"Everyone who is HIV positive needs to be on HIV medicine," Evans said.

Hutchins' wife said he was hospitalized in 2008 for pneumonia, but doctors never told her that he was HIV positive.

"If they offered him treatment, he probably declined [treatment] to keep [his illness] a secret," she said.

As of 2009, there were 1,425 HIV infected people in Hamilton County, Evans said, and about 100 more people in Southeast Tennessee test positive each year.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 percent of all HIV-infected people are unaware they are positive.

Hutchins' wife said he was seeing other women before they separated.

"I know I'm helping other women to find out," she said. "I knew he was cheating. They probably have not come forward."

If convicted, Hutchins could be jailed from three to six years.

"I think six years is too lenient," his wife said. "They say it's not a death sentence now. Your health can always take a turn for the worst."