Man With AIDS Admits Sexually Abusing Teen

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May 19, 2006

A 40-year-old man with AIDS pleaded guilty yesterday to sexually abusing a disabled 14-year-old boy, acknowledging that he put the teenager at risk of contracting the virus that causes the disease.

Ralph Joseph Nelson of 12th Street NE reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty in D.C. Superior Court to one count of second-degree child sex abuse and one count of attempted aggravated assault.

The plea averts a trial, which could have been a challenge for the victim, who has cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. The U.S. attorney's office said that because of privacy protections it could not provide further information about the victim's medical condition.

Speaking in a whisper and sometimes through tears, Nelson struggled through the requisite questioning by the judge, at one point saying, "I just want to get this over with."

For the child sex abuse charge, Nelson could serve up to 10 years, and for the attempted aggravated assault, he could serve up to five years.

Nelson was arrested in December after an anonymous tip prompted an investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and D.C. police. Tipped off to the identities of Nelson and his victim, the investigators went looking for both.

They found the victim first, and the boy recounted months of abuse by Nelson, who was a neighbor. The boy told investigators that Nelson had been doing "nasty" things to him since June 2005, when they met.

Nelson also left sexually explicit messages on the boy's cellphone and went to his school pretending to be the boy's godfather, according to prosecutors and police.

In court yesterday, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridgette D. Crafton, detailed the sex acts alleged in a 14-count indictment.

The graphic descriptions drew gasps from some spectators, especially when Crafton revealed that Nelson has AIDS and that he was aware of his condition when he had unprotected sexual contact with the victim.

"Did you do what the government lawyer says in her statement?" Judge Wendell P. Gardner Jr. asked Nelson.

"Yes," Nelson replied as he stood next to his attorney, Ronald Horton of the D.C. Public Defender Service.

Gardner is scheduled to sentence Nelson on July 20.



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