Gregory Dean Smith, noted New Jersey HIV-positive political prisoner, dies at age 40
Gregory Dean Smith, 40, died at St. Francis Medical Center in
Trenton, New Jersey on Monday, November 10, 2003. When he died, Greg
was in the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
Smith was an openly gay, African American AIDS activist who had many
supporters and friends within the AIDS movement. His incarceration
was a source of outrage for AIDS activists across the country; AIDS
hysteria and AIDS bigotry resulted in an unjust prison sentence for
Greg Smith, and in his unnecessary death.
Smith was charged with attempted murder, assault, and terroristic
threats following an incident in which he allegedly bit and spat on
guards at the Camden County jail in June 1989.
Smith had been an activist on HIV issues at the Camden jail while
serving time on a burglary conviction, writing to local newspapers
about poor medical care at the facility. He was well-informed about
the nature of HIV and its transmission. He contended at his trial
that he knew that HIV could not be transmitted through biting, and
that he never bit or spat at the officers.
Smith claimed that a laceration on Officer Albert Waddington's hand
was caused by his handcuffs. No bite analysis was ever made of the
The jury convicted Smith of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and
terroristic threats. The presiding judge, Hon. John Mariano, imposed
the maximum sentence: 25 years, with a 12 and-a-half year block on
After the sentence was read, Smith told the court, ''I never bit an
officer, and I'll say that until the day I die. I may die in the
next year or two, but I'll die proud. I told the truth."
After the sentencing hearing, advocate Judy Greenspan addressed
reporters: "The court did not consider the medical evidence, and the
sentence sends absolutely the wrong message. The defendant was not
sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for biting or because of
his prior prison record, but for having the AIDS virus."
Smith's case was an early example of institutionalized bigotry
directed at HIV positive people, and the extreme criminalization of
potential HIV exposures that carry no appreciable risk of infection.
Cases similar to Smith's were heard in several states in the late
1980s and early 1990s. While at least one similar case in Alabama
was reversed on appeal (Brock v. State, 555 So.2d 285), Greg lost his
1992 appeal, in which he was represented by civil rights attorney
Bill Kunstler. A subsequent petition to the New Jersey Supreme Court
Smith spent the next 13 years in prison, and kept up his activism.
He worked to provide inmates with access to HIV prevention and
treatment information, he was out about his HIV status and his sexual
orientation despite risks to his safety, he held many jobs, he wrote
a regular newsletter for inmates and others about prison and HIV
issues, he sustained the loss of both of his parents, and he tried to
stay as healthy as possible in prison. Smith's supporters stayed in
close touch with him, and advocated with the Department of
Corrections on his behalf.
His first chance at parole, in 2002, was denied.
On October 26th, Smith was transferred from Northern State Prison in
Newark to the Intensive Care Unit at St. Francis Medical Center in
Trenton. He was suffering from a number of serious conditions,
including bacterial meningitis, sepsis, and cirrhosis of the liver.
Smith never regained consciousness, and died on Monday, November 10th.
His death, like his life, has become rallying point for AIDS
activists. They say that he may not have received the accepted
standard of care for the infections he suffered at the time of his
death. They are seeking an autopsy, and access to Smith's medical
"The criminalization of HIV has not abated," said Judy Greenspan,
"Greg should never have done any time for such an AIDS-phobic
conviction." Asia Russell of ACT UP Philadelphia said, "Greg did not
have to die. AIDS bigotry and hysteria took his freedom, and now
medical neglect has killed him."
Care for HIV-positive prisoners in the New Jersey Department of
Corrections is subject to a court-ordered consent decree in a
decade-old case, Roe v. Fauver.
DONATIONS, FUNERAL, MEMORIAL
The funeral service will be held this Saturday, November 15, 2003 at 11AM at:
Carl Miller Funeral Home
831 Carl Miller Boulevard
Camden NJ 08104
Donations towards the cost of burial and continued legal support are
vital at this time. You can make an immediate donation on the ACT UP
Philadelphia webpage: www.critpath.org/actup using the secure server.
Put "Greg Smith" in the memo line of your donation.
Checks made out to ACT UP Philadelphia can be mailed to: PO Box
22439, Philadelphia PA 19110-2439; however, please also email
firstname.lastname@example.org with the amount of the check so we can inform
Greg's family of the total resources available.
Card of condolence can be sent to Greg's brother and sister-in-law:
Gerald and Margo Smith
149 Ablett Village
Camden NJ 08105
We are planning a celebration of Greg's life to be held in the near
future. Anyone with remembrances, photographs or other things to
contribute, or who wish to participate in the planning, can contact
Julie Davids at email@example.com or 646-431-7525
past advocacy [we regret we weren't more successful for you, Greg Smith]
HIV positive prisoner accused of attempted murder for allegedly spitting
Immediate action needed:
Fight new unjust charges
Stop the criminalization of HIV
Greg Smith is an openly gay, African-American prisoner living with AIDS. Greg is incarcerated in New Jersey's rural South Woods State Prison (located in Bridegton, Cumberland County). In 1990, Greg was convicted of attempted murder, terroristic threats and aggravated assault and given the maximum sentence of 25 years. His crime? Allegedly biting and spitting at Camden County guards during a scuffle at a medical visit in 1989. Greg's conviction was upheld on appeal despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted in the way the prosecution alleged. Greg continues to deny the charges.
Since 1989, he has been struggling to remain healthy in New Jersey state prisons. But he is now facing new unjust charges because of his HIV status, even as he prepares for his first chance at parole.
HIV is transmitted through blood, semen or vaginal fluids--not saliva. This didn't matter during Greg's trial ten years ago. Drawing on the widespread discrimination against people with HIV and hysteria about HIV transmission, the prosecution argued that Greg intended to murder the guards involved in the scuffle.
Greg, according to the prosecutor, attacked armed jail guards with his "personal weapon of misery"--his HIV disease--even though Greg's alleged actions could not have caused HIV transmission.
Despite loud and organized objection from AIDS activists and public health experts, the judge served Greg the maximum sentence: 25 years, with a 12-and-a-half year block on parole. At the time of his sentencing, people on both sides of the trial understood this to be a death sentence.
But Greg has fought to stay alive and healthy. Now in 2002, after serving more than 12 years on his original unjust sentence, Greg is approaching his first chance at parole. During his long sentence he has worked hard to provide inmates with access to HIV prevention and treatment information. He has held many jobs, regularly written a newsletter for inmates and others about prison and HIV issues, sustained the loss of both of his parents, and has tried to stay as healthy as possible in prison.
Since moving from Trenton State Prison to South Woods State Prison in 1998, where he is well-known as an openly gay, HIV positive man of color, Greg has become increasingly vulnerable to stigmatization and allegations that are jeopardizing his eligibility for parole.
Last week, an inmate accused Greg of spitting at him during an argument. While Greg is awaiting judgement--and most likely harsh punishment--from the prison administration for this alleged incident, he was also told that the Cumberland County prosecutor would pursue attempted murder charges against him.
Greg's current ordeal shows that hysteria and scapegoating about HIV transmission is alive and well in the state of New Jersey. The Cumberland County prosecutor must be stopped from pursuing these outrageous charges.
Please make the calls to the New Jersey officials listed below; call, fax, and write often. Greg's time in detention at South Woods State Prison has been severely damaging to his health: he is losing weight because he is being denied access to sufficient food, he has been cut off from most of his medications, and he is unable to make phone calls to get support from colleagues and legal counsel.
In addition to demanding the prosecutor drop these charges, the New Jersey Department of Corrections must immediately authorize Greg's transfer back to Trenton State Prison, where essential medical care for HIV positive people is better assured, and where he is closer to the support system that can facilitate his parole process.
Immediate and sustained pressure from people all over the country is needed to get these unjust charges dropped; more action will be needed in the future. Please stay involved in this effort by signing up to receive action alerts on efforts to fight for justice for Greg Smith. Send a blank email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
***** What you can do to help *****
Make these three phone calls today to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges, and to get Greg Smith the essential medical care he needs to stay healthy. (Note: Greg's state prison ID number is 220043).
1. Call and write Cumberland County Prosecutor, Arthur J. Marchand: tel (856) 453-0486, fax (856) 451-1507.Office of the Prosecutor 43 Fayette Street, Bridgeton, NJ 08302.
The message: Do not charge New Jersey prisoner Greg Smith with attempted murder. Spitting cannot transmit HIV, and the unjust charges lodged against Greg Smith will bring national scrutiny and criticism to the actions of the prosecutor's office. Arthur Marchand must stop this bogus case in its tracks.
2. Call and write Commisioner-designate, New Jersey Department of Corrections, Devon Brown: tel (609) 292-4036, fax (609) 292-9083 fax NJDOC, Whittlesey Road, PO Box 863, Trenton NJ 08625
The message: NJ Prisoner Greg Smith must not be charged with attempted murder. Any support in the Department of Corrections for the pursuit of criminal charges against Greg must stop immediately. Spitting cannot transmit HIV. Commissioner-designate Brown must direct the Administrator of South Woods State Prison, Stanley Nunn, to abandon any criminal charges against Greg Smith. Devon Brown must also ensure that Greg receives the essential medical care that he needs to stay healthy.
In addition, Commissioner-designate Brown must authorize Greg to transfer from South Woods State Prison to Trenton State Prison: South Woods has no commitment to inmate confidentiality, and Greg is continually harassed by inmates and guards there.
3. Call and write Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Health, Dr. Clifton R. Lacy: tel (609) 292-7837, fax (609) 292-0053. John Fitch Plaza P.O. Box 360 Trenton, NJ 08625.
The New Jersey Department of Health must intervene to ensure that NJ prisoner Greg Smith is not charged with attempted murder for allegedly spitting at another prisoners. Cumberland County's pursuit of these bogus charges will undermine HIV prevention efforts in New Jersey--a state with one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country. Dr. Lacy must urge South Woods State Prison and the Cumberland County Prosecutor to drop these charges. Finally, Lacy must ensure that Greg receives the essential medical care that he needs to stay healthy.
4. Write to Greg
Give him your support and tell him what you have done:
Greg Smith, #220043 / South Woods State Prison / CN 6000 / 215 Burlington Road South / Bridgeton NJ 08302.
5. Contact ACT UP:
Tell us what you've done, get updates, and join our contact list about Greg's case: Asia Russell, ACT UP phone: (215) 731-1844 or email: email@example.com. We may need further action on your part---join the listserv for alerts on Greg's case by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Organize and Advocate:
Both ACT UP Philadelphia and ACT UP New York will discuss Greg's case during weekly meeting on Monday, March 25th. For meeting details for both chapters go to www.actupny.org.
7. Watch this space for future actions and updates.
ACT UP is an all-volunteer organization. To donate money to help the campaign for justice for Gregory Smith, write a check to ACT UP Philadelphia, with "Justice for Gregory Smith" in the memo line and send to:
|ACT UP Philadelphia
PO Box 22439
Philadelphia PA 19110-2439
to ACT UP meetings in New York and Philadelphia to plan advocacy.
For more info: call 215-731-1844 or email email@example.com
Biting, Spitting, and other Murderous Acts: Greg Smith and the Criminalization of HIV
Who is Greg Smith?
Greg Smith is an openly gay, African American, HIV positive prisoner at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey, serving a 25 year sentence he was given because he is living with HIV.
Why is he in prison?
Smith was charged with attempted murder and assault following an incident in which he allegedly bit and spat on guards at the Camden County jail in June 1989.
The prosecution at the April 1990 trial cited "anecdotal evidence" that HIV could be transmitted through biting, and claimed that Smith intended to kill the officers with "his own very personal weapon of misery"--his HIV infection. Exposure to saliva can not transmit HIV--the guards involved remain HIV negative.
Smith had been an activist on HIV issues at the Camden jail--writing to local newspapers about poor medical ca re at the facility--and was well-informed about the nature of HIV and its transmission. At his trial, Greg stated that HIV could not be transmitted through biting. Furthermore, he contended that he never bit or spat at the officers, and that the laceration on the officers hand was caused by Gregs handcuffs. No bite analysis was ever made of the wound.
The jury convicted him of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and terroristic threats. The presiding judge, Hon. John Mariano, imposed the maximum sentence: 25 years, with a 12-and-a-half year block on parole eligibility.
Cases similar to Smiths were heard in several states in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While at least one similar case in Alabama was reversed on appeal (Brock v. State, 555 So.2d 285), Greg's subsequent appeals to the New Jersey courts were lost.
What can you do?
Activists and legal experts are fighting for Greg's release during his first chance at parole: July 2003. Contact ACT UP Philadelphia for more information: (215) 731-1944 or e mail Asia Russell: firstname.lastname@example.org You can also contact Greg: activists on the outside have worked beside Greg through many crises, including getting medication lines for prisoners moved indoors, fighting mandatory health care co-payments, and fighting Greg's termination from kitchen service jobs because of his HIV status.
Greg Smith #220043
South Woods State Prison
215 Burlington Road South
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
The State of New Jersey v. Gregory Dean
Greg is sentence to 5 years in Camden county jail on charges of burglary.
While being transported for a medical visit at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden for a back injury, guards allege that Greg bit one Guard, Officer Albert Waddington, and spat on Waddington as well as Officer John Snow. Greg contends that the guards beat him, and that Waddington's laceration was from Greg's handcuffs.
Greg's trial begins: the charges are attempted murder, terroristic threats, and four counts of aggravated assault. Greg, represented by court appointed defense attorney Ralph Kramer, argues that Greg did not bite the officer and that Greg knew HIV could not be transmitted through saliva. Prosecution witness Dr. Porwancher refers to anecdotal reports of HIV transmission through biting. Defense witness Dr. Condolucci testifies that there is a very low probability of being infected by a bite.
Greg is sentenced to maximum time for both attempted murder (20 years) and aggravated assault (5 years), with no parole eligibility for 12.5 years. Judge Mariano tells The New York Times that, under New Jersey law, the state does not have to prove the attempted crime was possible, only that the defendant believed it was: "Impossibility is no defense to a charge of attempted murder." ACT UP and prisoner advocates protest the sentence in the courtroom.
Greg's supporters demand Governor Florio overturn Greg's conviction. Greg is held at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
Attorney William Kunstler announces he will appeal Greg's conviction.
Activists including the ACLU, national Prison Project, and ACT UP rally outside the Trenton State House in support of Greg.
Greg's appeal begins. Kunstler charges that Greg's conviction must be overturned, because the judge wrongfully charged the jury and expert medical testimony regarding the impossibility of HIV transmission through saliva was ignored. The District Attorney maintains that the impossibility of HIV transmission through a bite is irrelevant, as Greg's intent was established. More than twenty organizations file amicus briefs on Gregs behalf.
Appellate Court denies Greg's appeal.
Estimated date of Greg's first parole hearing.
November 10, 2003
Gregory Smith Dies
Greg should never have done any time for such an AIDS-phobic conviction.
Greg did not have to die. AIDS bigotry and hysteria took his freedom,
and medical neglect had killed him.,
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