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TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian man convicted of murder for knowingly transmitting the virus that causes AIDS could stay in jail indefinitely after an Ontario judge ruled him a "dangerous offender" who is likely to reoffend if freed.
The ruling means Johnson Aziga, 55, could spend the rest of his life in prison even if he succeeds in appealing his conviction on two counts of murder -- two of the women Aziga slept with after he was diagnosed with HIV later died of AIDS.
"I think it's really a back up, in case the murder convictions don't stand, because these are the only murder convictions that have ever been obtained in this context," said Isabel Grant, a law professor at the University of British Columbia.
Canada has no death penalty, and a first degree murder conviction normally carries a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The "dangerous offender" designation keeps those criminals thought most likely to commit more violent offenses in prison indefinitely.
In April 2009, a jury convicted Aziga of two counts of first degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault, and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault.
Prosecutors said Aziga had unprotected sex with at least 11 women over a period of years, after learning that he was HIV positive, putting his partners at risk. Seven were diagnosed with AIDS and two later died from the illness.
In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada found that knowingly exposing a partner to HIV could be prosecuted under existing laws against assault.
Several people have been convicted of lesser charges since then, including aggravated sexual assault, and the number of prosecutions has been increasing. But Aziga was the first to be found guilty of murder.
Grant said that charge might be excessive.
"We are better able to deal with HIV now. We know how to minimize transmission, and we have effective anti-retroviral medications, and hopefully we're reducing the stigma of HIV/AIDS, so I really don't know why the prosecutions are increasing," she said.
Editing by Janet Guttsman and Rob Wilson