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Crown seeks two years in HIV assaults

Prosecutor: He played Russian roulette with the disease . . . and lives of other people

Crown prosecutors are seeking two years in jail for a North Vancouver man who had unprotected sex with multiple partners -- one of whom had a baby -- when he knew he was HIV positive.

Adam Rollo, 29, was diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS in 2003, but never sought any treatment. Between 2008 and 2010, he had sexual relationships with two women, one of whom gave birth in January last year, unknowingly putting her infant at risk.

When the truth finally came out in May 2010, Rollo was arrested. He later pled guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Neither the women nor the child had contracted the virus.

At a hearing in North Vancouver provincial court Monday, Crown attorney Nicole Gregoire asked Judge Carol Baird Ellan to sentence Rollo to two years in jail plus two years' probation. "He played Russian roulette with the disease . . . and the lives of other people," said Gregoire.

Rollo showed limited empathy for his victims, had anger management issues and exhibited grossly irresponsible behaviour, she said. The sentence should serve to denounce what he did and deter others.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Rollo started a relationship with the first victim in October 2008. They had sex several times that month and once to twice monthly thereafter, using a condom about half the time. When the woman asked Rollo directly if he had HIV, he replied "not that I'm aware," or words to that effect, according to Gregoire.

The relationship was suspended toward the end of 2008, and Rollo started seeing the second victim soon after. Their relationship continued for a few weeks, during which time they had sex about 20 times.

Three months later, Rollo got back together again with the first victim, and in June 2009 she announced she was pregnant. At the time, a doctor explained to both of them that HIV could be passed to a child during birth and through breast feeding. Still, Rollo stayed silent. The pair continued to have unprotected sex during the pregnancy. The woman gave birth to a son in January 2010.

The truth finally came to light when a worker for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which had taken the baby into care temporarily following an assault by Rollo on the mother, spoke with a nurse at Lions Gate Hospital. That conversation led to contact with the physician who had diagnosed Rollo with HIV seven years before. The doctor exposed his secret.

When confronted with the information, Rollo insisted it was a private matter, and noted he had never had a second medical opinion, according to Gregoire. The victim reported him to police, and in May 2010 he was arrested.

Soon after, the North Vancouver RCMP circulated Rollo's photo to media, asking anyone who had had sexual contact with him to come forward. A friend showed the announcement to victim No. 2, who got in touch with the detachment. Three other women also came forward with accusations, according to investigators, but no charges resulted from those cases.

Neither of Rollo's victims chose to submit an impact statement, but one asked Gregoire to "convey her sense of betrayal," she said. "(The victim) was shocked and felt quite a lot of fear."

In arguing for the two-year sentence, Gregoire said the court would have to determine the degree of risk the victims had been exposed to. This is not an easy task, as it would hinge on several uncertain variables, including the number of copies of the virus in his system.

In 2003, Rollo had something on the order of 50 copies of the HIV pathogen in every millilitre of his blood, a relatively low viral load. When he was finally tested again in 2010 -- after seven years of effectively ignoring the issue -- that number had soared to 270,000 per ml. Medical experts consulted by the Crown said it was impossible to determine exactly where the figure would have been at any given time between those two points, as the virus doesn't progress in a linear way.

According to a specialist in infectious disease, said Gregoire, the likelihood that a highly infected man would pass the disease to a female partner through unprotected sex is around one in 1,000 for each encounter. The odds rise each time the woman is exposed, so if they had sex 10 times, there would be a 10-in-1,000 (one per cent) chance he would infect her at some point. If they had sex 100 times, the chances would climb to 10 per cent and so on.

If, at the time, Rollo's viral load had been anywhere near what it was last year, "that would have created a very significant danger," said Gregoire.

Gregoire asked that in addition to the jail term, Rollo be referred to a treatment program for sex offenders.

The hearing was adjourned due to time restrictions. It will reconvene later this month, at which time defence will submit its arguments.

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