Jury Frees AIDS Victim Who Sold Infected Blood

Times Staff Writer

Joseph Edward Markowski, the homeless male prostitute who sold AIDS-contaminated blood to make $9, was acquitted Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court of attempting to poison a pharmaceutical product.

Markowski, 29, who originally faced charges of attempted murder, smiled wanly as the clerk read the jury’s verdict that brought his eight-month prosecution to an end.

Juror William E. Ferguson told reporters that the verdict, reached on the second day of deliberations, hinged on whether Markowski specifically intended to kill or injure someone by selling his blood.


“It was basically clear-cut,” said Ferguson, 36, of Echo Park. “ . . . He obviously was down there (at the blood bank) for no other reason than to just get money, so he didn’t have that specific intent.”

Law Deemed Inadequate

Ferguson said jurors recognized that the law is inadequate to cover Markowski’s actions.

“We would hope that in the future someone will come up with a law that will prohibit people from doing that, but we had to try the case on the facts that we had, according to the law,” the juror said.

Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner expressed disappointment with the outcome, saying: “Mr. Markowski is today free to do what he did before he was arrested and charged with a crime. . . . Will he do it again? The past as prologue? Perhaps.”

While agreeing with jurors that the case highlights the need for new legislation, Reiner said the Markowski prosecution was justified under a “a very strict interpretation” of existing law.

Legislation Pending

“I can tell you that I’m going to continue to make that argument until the law is changed,” Reiner said. A bill to outlaw the sale of AIDS-contaminated blood, offered by state Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) is pending in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Reiner is backing similar legislation recently introduced by Assemblyman Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres).

Markowski, who left the courtroom without speaking to reporters, has tested positive for the HIV virus that is believed to cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome but has no symptoms of the disease, according to his court-appointed attorney, Guy E. O’Brien.


Markowski, a diagnosed psychotic who takes psychotropic drugs to control his mental state, will be placed in a halfway house until a permanent home can be found for him, O’Brien said.

He was originally accused of 10 felony counts, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, for selling his blood to Plasma Production Associates last June 22 and attempting a second sale on June 25.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen dismissed those charges last December after finding that there was no evidence that Markowski intended to kill anyone or that anyone received a tainted blood product because of his actions.

Two Murder Counts

When charges were filed against him last June, Markowski was also accused of two additional counts of attempted murder for having sex with a fellow transient on two occasions while he knew that he had AIDS. But those charges were dismissed at the preliminary hearing after the alleged victim refused to testify against him.

As a result, all that remained of the highly publicized case were two counts of attempted poisoning as set forth in a statute making it a felony to mingle “any poison or harmful substance with any food, drink, medicine or pharmaceutical product” if you know or should know that a person could be injured.

The statute was revised after a series of tampering incidents that began in Chicago six years ago, when seven people died from taking Tylenol pills that had been tainted with cyanide. If Markowski had been convicted of both counts of violating the statute, he could have been sentenced to five years in prison.


Markowski was arrested June 25. Two days earlier, police had sent him to County-USC Medical Center after he created a disturbance at a bank and pleaded with a security guard to kill him because he had AIDS.

Police found a receipt in his pocket indicating he had sold blood to a plasma center and wrote to hospital officials urging that he be detained. Instead, he was released on June 24. The following day, he returned to the blood bank, where he was intercepted by police.

Like ‘Bullet or a Bomb’

Deputy Dist. Atty. Antonio Barreto Jr., who prosecuted the case, told jurors during the seven-day trial that Markowski knew that his blood contained a “virulent poison capable of killing any number of people, just as surely as a bullet or a bomb.”

Plasma from paid donors is sold to pharmaceutical firms for use in gamma globulin, albumin and in preparing an anti-clotting factor for controlling bleeding in hemophiliacs.

According to trial testimony, a heating process used to convert the plasma into these products is supposed to kill any virus that might be present.

Plasma collected from proprietary centers is never transfused directly to patients.

O’Brien acknowledged to the jury that Markowski had been “reckless” in selling his blood but said his client, who has a history of alcoholism and mental problems, had acted out of desperation because his cries for help had gone unanswered.