The Flores case: ‘HIV panic’ killer sentenced to 10 years
Justice for Felipe Flores, a gay Ecuadorian man bashed to death in Sydney more than two decades ago, has been served after his killer was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Last month, Tasmanian man Paul Darcey Armstrong was sentenced to a maximum of 13 years and three months, with a non-parole period of nine years and 11 months, for killing Flores, who had admitted he was HIV-positive during their sexual encounter.
The pair met at the Exchange Hotel on Oxford Street in September 1991. Shortly afterwards, they ventured to Lincoln Crescent, a notorious ‘lovers lane’ in Woolloomooloo and engaged in oral sex.
The NSW Supreme Court heard that soon after the act, Flores revealed he was HIV-positive, which sent Armstrong into a rage and attacked Flores.
Armstrong had previously told the court that in 1991, he was petrified of becoming HIV-positive.
“I thought it was a death sentence,” Armstrong said. “I had so many thoughts going through my mind – how long would I have, would I be walking around like a human skeleton?”
Flores injuries were extensive, including a ruptured liver and spleen, broken ribs and serious facial and head injuries. His body was found by a security guard later that night, dumped in the bushes.
Armstrong had previously been a person of interest for the crime, but when initially questioned by police he maintained his innocence and suggested Flores was the victim of a gay bashing.
At the time, a spate of homophobic attacks was sweeping throughout Sydney.
But in 2008 detectives from the Unsolved Homicide Unit were able to link Armstrong’s DNA to blood found under Flores’ fingernails and Armstrong was eventually convicted of murder.
However, the Court of Criminal Appeal overturned the conviction last year and Armstrong's sentence was quashed and a retrial ordered.
Armstrong eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter in April earlier this year. But he sighted provocation as a defence, saying Flores’ confession of his HIV status had provoked the attack.
While Justice Christine Adamson found provocation to play a part in the events that took place that night, she suggested Armstrong’s own reckless behaviour contributed to the incident.
"Although infection by the HIV virus was potentially fatal, it was a risk that Mr Armstrong was clearly willing to take, given his cavalier attitude to sex,” Adamson said. “His acts after the assault were clearheaded and callous.”
Despite some concerns about the use of partial defence of provocation – in essence, the HIV panic defence – observers say the case should be viewed in the context of when it occurred.
“It would appear that the sentence delivered by Justice Adamson is appropriate,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill.
“I note that while the Crown took into account the impact HIV was having on the community in the early 1990s, ultimately the defence of provocation based on fear of HIV transmission was not taken seriously.
“Given that these days the health implications of HIV are much less concerning, we would expect that any similar legal defence based on a contemporary fear of HIV transmission would not even be considered by the courts.
“We’re currently liaising with the relevant legal authorities to determine if this is indeed the case.”
Images: Paul Armstong (above) was sentenced to 10 years for killing Felipe Flores (below)