An HIV-positive woman wrongly linked to an alleged "sex for drugs" scandal has won a legal victory in her battle to clear her name.

Without comment, the Arizona Supreme Court on April 6 declined to reinstate a marijuana-related criminal case against Ronda Crace. In so doing, the court upheld a 1991 ruling by a Yavapai County trial judge who had dismissed the case against Crace and her roommate, Robert Christian.

The case made news statewide after narcotics agents raided Crace's Prescott home, armed with a search warrant claiming the pair had conspired to "commit homicide by transmitting the fatal disease AIDS" to teenagers.

The cops found a small amount of marijuana during their search of the home, but nothing to indicate a tip they claimed to have gotten from anonymous callers: that Crace and Christian--who was battling AIDS--had swapped drugs with local teens in return for sex.

Police booked the roommates into the Yavapai County Jail on drug charges, but were unable to find any proof of a conspiracy to "murder" teens by infecting them with HIV. The lack of proof, however, didn't stop a Prescott cop from leaking the sex-for-drugs angle to a local daily.

"Arrest here involves sex, drugs, AIDS, kids," a headline in the Prescott Courier blared in September 1991, four days after the bust. "Alleged sex and drugs activity is thought by police to involve several high-school-age juveniles of both sexes," a subtitle announced.

The allegations never were proved, and Yavapai County Superior Court Judge James Sult ruled the police search warrant "obviously invalid." That meant nothing seized during the raid--including the marijuana Christian had told police he used to relieve the pain of his AIDS symptoms--could be introduced as evidence. Sult then dismissed the criminal case.

Christian left the Prescott area and died last March.
But Crace, a secretary for an accounting firm who believes she was infected with the AIDS virus through sex with a drug-abusing ex-boyfriend--not Christian--stuck around Prescott.

Against all odds, Crace, who became known around Prescott as "the AIDS girl," tried to rebuild her life in the community (The AIDS Girl," June 9, 1993).

Prosecutors didn't take Judge Sult's dismissal of the criminal case lightly. Deputy county attorney Julia Stoner appealed the ruling, contending in legal papers:

"The fact that officers were not able and still have not been able to confirm any sexual conduct on the part of [Crace and Christian] with high-school-age children is of no consequence. It was whether there was a fair probability that contraband or the evidence of a crime would be found in [their] residence based upon the callers' statements."
The state's appellate courts, however, have declined to reinstate the search warrant and criminal case against Crace.

"A bad search is a bad search," says Prescott attorney John Williams, who has served as Crace's criminal attorney during the protracted appellate process. "But you never know what the courts are going to do, so we're obviously very pleased with the outcome."
Yavapai County Attorney Charles Hastings did not respond to inquiries from New Times, and it is not known whether his office will ask a higher court to consider the constitutional search-and-seizure issue.

Crace, now 30, has moved to Tennessee with her father and brother, and was unavailable for comment. But the high court's ruling sits quite nicely with Mike DePoli, her attorney in a still-pending civil lawsuit filed in September against Yavapai County and several law enforcement agencies.

"In our suit, we are saying, among other things, that reasonable police officers would not have done what was done in Prescott," DePoli says.

The civil suit claims the ill-fated Prescott police raid "set into motion a series of unnecessary and uncalled-for events that blackened the names of Crace and Christian and held them up before the community as pariahs to be shunned and avoided. . . .

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin