WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A disgraced Air Force sergeant will spend up to eight years in prison for exposing multiple sex partners to HIV at swinger parties in a sentence that the prosecution hopes will send the message that the military values the integrity of its service members.
A court martial judge on Wednesday also ordered Tech Sgt. David Gutierrez to be dishonorably discharged and reduced him to the lowest enlistment rank while he serves out his military confinement.
The judge, Lt. Col William Muldoon, found him guilty earlier in the day on seven of eight counts of aggravated assault and of violating his commander's order to notify partners about his HIV status and use condoms. The judge also convicted Gutierrez of indecent acts for having sex in front of others and of eight counts of adultery.
The 43-year-old airman appeared crestfallen as the judge handed down a sentence that will cost Gutierrez the military medical benefits he had tearfully begged to keep.
Before he was sentenced, Gutierrez had sobbed as he told Muldoon that he was willing to spend more time in jail rather than lose the medical benefits.
"The possibility of a future without assistance does scare me - scares me to the core," he tearfully said. "The cost of medicine is very expensive and I don't know if I can afford it."
Gutierrez apologized to the court, the Air Force, his family and his sexual partners. He said he thanks God every day none of his partners contracted the virus and asked the judge to have mercy on him so he can live to see his two children graduate from college and get married.
Prosecutors had argued Gutierrez played Russian roulette with his sexual partners' lives.
"The accused was not thinking about how his victims would pay for their medications," Capt. Sam Kidd said.
Kidd told the judge that the sentence he would hand down would "speak volumes" to the community and send a message that the military values integrity first in its service members. He said the victims thought they could trust Gutierrez because he was in the military.
"He preyed on this community," Kidd said.
Defense attorneys pleaded with the judge not to impose the punitive discharge that would strip his benefits.
"He is looking at his own mortality as he looks down the road," said defense attorney Maj. James Dorman.
Dr. Donna Sweet testified that the cost of HIV medication typically runs between $1,700 and $1,800 a month, and HIV infected patients on average spend between $28,000 and $30,000 annually for their medical care.
Without medical care, infected patients usually die within 10 years, she said. But with proper care and mediation, a 20-year-old person who contracts HIV can easily expect to live to age 70.
A Wichita woman who said she has lived a swinger lifestyle for six years testified at the sentencing hearing that she found out from news reports about the case that she had been exposed to HIV.
"Actually I started crying," she said. "I was kind of mortified."
Another woman who testified against Gutierrez during the court martial sat in the gallery during the sentencing phase and wiped tears from her eyes as he said he was sorry he betrayed the friendships he had with his partners.
"I hope they understand I never intended to hurt them, and I sincerely ask for their forgiveness," Gutierrez said.
The Associated Press is not naming the airman's sexual partners because they are alleged victims of sexual crimes.
Several people who participated in swinger and partner-swapping events with Gutierrez and his wife testified this week that they never would have had sex with him had he told them he was HIV-positive.
Gutierrez repeatedly denied that he was infected, and he was encouraged by his wife to carry on with swinger events, several witnesses testified during the airman's court martial at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.
Gutierrez originally was charged with 10 counts of aggravated assault and with violating his squadron commander's order to notify partners about his HIV status and use condoms. The judge granted a prosecution request Wednesday to drop two of the assault charges and one of the adultery charges.