A transgender prostitute accused of causing grievous bodily harm to a former client by passing on the HIV virus to him through unprotected sex has been found guilty by a jury.
Clayton James Palmer, who identifies as a woman and supplied sex services via online ads under the pseudonym of Sienna Fox, has been on trial in WA’s District Court this week, charged with assaulting the unnamed victim by having unprotected sex him multiple times until late July 2015.
Prosecutors claimed that at the time, Ms Palmer already knew she was HIV positive, having been told months earlier by nurse Joanne Morgan that there was a positive indication of HIV in her blood.
Ms Morgan was also said to have taken five pages of notes about the consultation, in which she gave Ms Palmer other information about what she should do next, including her disclosure obligations.
Prosector Ben Stanwix told the court that the “only plausible source of the infection” was Ms Palmer, who is now known by her initials CJ, pointing to genetic evidence which showed that they shared an extremely rare strain of the HIV virus.
“Having unprotected sex was such a grave departure from the duty of care she owed him, she was criminally negligent,” Mr Stanwix said.
Ms Stanwix said Ms Palmer “didn’t want to face reality” after she was told of her infection by the nurse, who he said in 2014 was “consistent, organised and meticulous”.
But defence barrister Simon Freitag said it was nurse Morgan who was struggling with reality, pointing to her intravenous methamphetamine use, mental health problems and subsequent multiple psychiatric hospitalisations after a breakdown in 2015.
For those reasons, he said, it was in no way certain she had informed Ms Palmer of her HIV status at the crucial time.
“(Ms Morgan’s” breakdown) is said to be the equivalent of a lightning strike. It was more like a flood … and there is a lot of rain that falls before the dam breaks,” Mr Freitag said.
Ms Palmer had maintained before a jury she was never told of her HIV positive status by the nurse, and had no idea she was carrying the virus as she carried on her sex work under the same name for another year.
She also said she may not have been the one to give her former client the virus, as the man had a high sex drive, and was in other sexual relationships, including with another transgender woman.
Giving evidence, Ms Palmer told the court: “I was not given a diagnosis in September 2014. I did not ignore it. I was not told.”
This morning, after nearly four hours deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, which was greeted with tears from Ms Palmer and her supporters.
Ms Palmer was refused bail by Judge Christopher Stephenson, who said in his opinion the offence was so serious that she needed to be remanded in custody ahead of a sentencing date in February.
Mr Freitag said that Ms Palmer would have to be remanded in a male prison, as she was when she was kept in custody for more than nine months following her arrest in 2016.
Judge Stephenson accepted that would make time in custody for more difficult for the 40 year-old Ms Palmer, but said her conduct had not only put the life of the victim at risk at the time, but had also put the wider community at risk of further infection.