The District judge was about to pass sentence. Louis C. Saunders stood in his jail clothes as the longtime girlfriend he infected with the AIDS virus addressed him from the prosecution table.
"What was so secret about you having HIV? I could have been so supportive," said the 34-year-old woman, who is increasingly sick because of the virus. "Why did you do it?"
In an unusual case, Saunders pleaded guilty in July to aggravated assault for having unprotected sex with the woman for 2 1/2 years after he knew he was HIV positive. He repeatedly denied to her that he was infected.
When the woman noticed he was taking the anti-AIDS drug AZT, he told her the medicine was for a behavioral problem, she said. As late as April, three years after being informed he had tested positive, Saunders told a District detective that he did not have HIV.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold L. Cushenberry Jr. sentenced Saunders yesterday to the maximum, 40 months to 10 years in prison. He told the defendant the case "calls out" for a message of deterrence to others who might be similarly reckless.
"It was callous," Cushenberry told Saunders, 40, who is also known as Louis Sanders. "It reflected an utter disregard for the health--and perhaps the life--of a woman who cared for you. You had no right."
The judge said Saunders was "pronouncing death on a sexual partner."
After the hearing, with Saunders on his way back to jail, his former girlfriend sat quietly and talked about the man she once trusted and of what happens now. It is The Washington Post's policy not to identify victims of sexual crimes.
Physically, she is no longer able to work or be the mother she would like to be to her three teenage children. Emotionally, she struggles to understand the unfathomable.
"I stay sick a lot now. One day I might be feeling well. The next day, I'm slumpy. I keep catching these colds," said the Southeast Washington woman. "It makes me feel so isolated. People don't know what I'm going through."
When she contemplates what she will miss of life when she dies, she said she feels cheated by a man she loved, trusted and held close: "He destroyed my life, my family."
"Louis told me a long time ago that he was going to make sure that no other man would want me. And now with HIV, it's true," the woman wrote Cushenberry. "I don't know who I can trust anymore."
Saunders, a five-time felon who lived variously in Greenbelt and in the 600 block of Alabama Avenue SE, apologized to his former lover. Although he admitted at an earlier hearing that he had unprotected sex while lying to her about his medical condition, Saunders said he "in no way intended to hurt her in any kind of way."
Yet at one point, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Gorman, Saunders battered the woman. At another, while a separate sexual assault case was pending, he threatened to harm her if she did not seek to drop the charges. At a third, in May, he intimidated her into writing a notarized letter declaring that someone else had infected her.
She pressed on, and Saunders pleaded guilty.
"I love my mother very much. She is the only parent I have in my life. If she gets any sicker, one day she will leave us," one of the woman's daughters wrote Cushenberry. "I hope you never let him out of jail. Because he might hurt another person, like he did to my mother."