Richard J. Schmidt
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Richard J. Schmidt is an American physician who was convicted by a Louisiana court in 1998 of attempted murder. The case marked the first time in forensic history that viral DNA was used to prove a link between two people with HIV or AIDS in a criminal trial.
In 1994 Dr. Schmidt used a sample of blood taken from one of his AIDS-infected patients to inject into his lover and former colleague, Janice Trahan, infecting her with HIV. Six months later Ms. Trahan, a nurse, was diagnosed with HIV. Convinced that Schmidt had infected her after a suspiciously fleeting late-night visit to give her a "Vitamin B" injection, Ms. Trahan had her ex-husband and former boyfriends tested. All were shown to be negative for HIV - results which led Lafayette, Louisiana police to further investigate her claims.
HIV is a fairly fragile virus, and lasts for only a few hours outside the human body. Detectives examining hospital records found that Dr. Schmidt had taken blood from one patient that night, but had never sent the blood to the lab. The absence of laboratory testing identification references against this patient's name led to police visiting the man who readily disclosed that he had AIDS and that he had been called in for a blood test by Dr Schmidt on the evening in question. The forensic challenge at that point was to match the DNA from the virus itself from the patient to the victim, something that had never been done before. HIV DNA was collected from the victim, from the putative patient source, and from thirty-two other unrelated, HIV-positive individuals living in the same metropolitan area. Scientists concluded that of all the samples they tested, the two viruses' DNA from the victim and the patient matched almost exactly, even with HIV's potential to mutate very rapidly.
It was further disclosed at trial that the victim had also acquired Hepatitis C around the same time. Evidence from Schmidt's patient records showed that a blood sample was taken from a patient with this virus the day before the HIV-infected sample was taken. The Hep C sample was similarly not matched with any laboratory references - these two were the only such omissions found in Schmidt's patient records.
In 1998 Dr. Schmidt was sentenced to 50 years for second degree attempted murder.
- This case was shown on the television series Forensic Files.
- Michael L. Metzker, David P. Mindell, Xiao-Mei Liu, Roger G. Ptak, Richard A. Gibbs, David M. Hillis. (2002) "Molecular evidence of HIV-1 transmission in a criminal case." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 99(22):14292-14297.