Loc: Los Angeles
Brits convict man of infecting friend with HIV
#224144 - 02/08/07 10:58 AM
'Far from being the humane, cultured man he liked to portray himself as, he was some kind of psychopath'
The Scotsman February 7, 2007
IT WAS an idyllic weekend of camping by the banks of the river. A group of friends, French, Chilean, English, Spanish, all living in Edinburgh had decided to leave the city.
I was one of them, and so was Giovanni Mola, the Italian chef found guilty yesterday of deliberately infecting a girlfriend with HIV.
Looking back, it is easy to say that Mola was often miserable, that he seemed to carry a heavy burden and be pre-occupied a lot of the time.
But at the time, Mola was just another one of the group, which included psychiatric workers, social workers, part-time university lecturers, artists and musicians. None of us could ever have guessed that in our midst was a man who would be accused of deliberately and recklessly endangering the life of another.
And that beneath that broody but apparently gentle personality lurked a man who had already clocked up a criminal record in Italy for offences including aggravated theft, extortion and burglary.
Read the court reports and it would be easy to assume that Mola was a sleazy Latin lover - a womaniser, a lowlife, a person who you would be slow to trust.
But at the time he fitted in very well with the international crowd of people on the banks of the River Dochart at Killin, Perthshire.
Later, the group of friends on the camping trip would all discuss how terrifying that a person who could do such a thing could have been among us.
But I remember at the time the thing which made the biggest impression on me was the care he took when cooking a chicken around the campfire.
Mola and his best friend, a Spanish man, spent the best part of a day building a wooden spit.
They spent hours turning the bird slowly, coating it with herbs, salt and spices from a plastic box full of cooking materials.
I remember thinking how stylish it all was - and I was extremely impressed the next day when Mola took out an espresso machine, which he balanced on the embers of the fire to make real coffee in the morning.
"Always go camping with Italians," I remember saying to my work colleagues when I went back into the office.
A year after the camping trip, Mola had left Edinburgh. He had told friends he was having problems, that he was in some sort of trouble.
Most people assumed it was something to do with politics. He was always hinting that he was involved in some sort of secretive underground political scene. It now seems naïve to have believed him. But his friends in Edinburgh had never had any reason to doubt him before.
One, a part-time lecturer, said: "My impression of him was that he was a very quiet, artistic and sensitive kind of person. He was very charming and seemed quite interested in mystical things.
"He was always very nice and friendly, and I can't ever remember seeing him with a girl.
"It was only afterwards that we realised there was so much about him we didn't know," said the lecturer. "I didn't know anything about his past. I only knew that he was from Italy."
Another friend from the camping trip said: "When we read about him in the papers nobody could believe it. It was too hard to believe we were lied to by this person. But we knew very little about his life."
When reports appeared in the newspapers saying Mola was being extradited from Italy to face charges in the UK, many of the people who knew him thought it must be a mistake.
The Spanish friend who had been almost constantly at his side in Edinburgh defended Mola, saying angrily that he was being condemned in error and that there must be some explanation.
Several months later, Ms Y, another woman who had slept with Mola, came knocking on my door to ask for help. Talking to a newspaper was her way of dealing with the situation. She had already undergone tests for HIV and hepatitis, which had come back negative.
She turned up at my house with an old friend of mine who had gone with her to the hospital.
He said later: "I'll never forget that day as long as I live. We really were not sure if she was going to live or die."
LOOKING back, it is impossible to understand how Mola could have justified his actions in his own mind.
Everyone these days knows of the perils of unsafe sex - but the truth is many of us have carelessly put ourselves at risk at some time in our lives.
But to risk another person's life deliberately - knowing you have a very good chance of infecting them with a deadly disease - takes a particular kind of person.
As a European living in Edinburgh, Mola was lucky to have found his way into a tolerant, open-minded network of people who accepted him into their lives. To have repaid that warm-heartedness and kindness by putting someone else's life at risk was unforgiveable.
It is ironic that Mola liked to portray himself to others as a radical, a communist, and yet at root he showed a fundamental lack of humanity and concern for his fellow human beings.
I still find it hard to believe - not that a person I knew was infected with HIV. I have known a number of people with it, including a couple who have now passed away.
What is hard to believe is that a person could know they were infected and yet still seek out casual, almost aimless sexual relationships. Far from being the humane, intelligent, cultured person he liked to portray himself as, it shows that Giovanni Mola was some kind of psychopath.
Luckily, such people are very rare. However - as I and all those who knew Giovanni Mola in Edinburgh have become aware - it is not always possible to recognise someone like that.
During the trial, Mola's victim summed it up best: "He's insane. He's a liar." She said that someone who had unprotected sex while carrying the virus would have to be "somebody sinister, somebody evil".
A FEW months after my interview with Ms Y, I received an angry e-mail from Mola, who at that time was apparently in an Italian prison. It was a reaction to the report that had appeared in The Scotsman, which was sent to a friend and then forwarded to me. It was a curious document. I remember it expressed a great deal of anger at being described as "a waiter", rather than "a chef". It was also full of rage about being described as a "Latin lover kind of guy".
"I didn't go to those Latin American clubs at all," he said.
I no longer have a copy of the e-mail, but I remember it was badly spelled and clumsily expressed - showing how mistaken Giovanni's friends and acquaintances were to think of him as cultured and well-educated.
I remember as well that it was entirely concerned with surfaces, with how he might have appeared to others.
There was nothing at all of regret that he might have contributed to another person's untimely death.
Mola guilty of knowingly infecting woman with HIV
AN ITALIAN chef who boasted of having had 200 lovers was convicted yesterday of knowingly infecting a girlfriend with HIV and hepatitis C.
Giovanni Mola, 38, refused to wear condoms after beginning a sexual relationship with the woman in Edinburgh. His victim - who can be identified only as Miss X - had been a virgin before being seduced by Mola, whom she met outside a Lidl supermarket in 2003. He never told her he had been infected with HIV and hepatitis C three years earlier.
At the High Court in Glasgow, the judge, Lord Hodge, told Mola the indifference he had shown towards his victim had been "deeply disturbing". Senior police officers last night described Mola as "despicable".
Mola had insisted throughout his eight-day trial he had always worn a condom during his five-month relationship with Miss X. But she said he had "aggressively" refused to wear contraception.
The jury of eight women and seven men took 80 minutes to reach their majority guilty verdict. Mola was convicted of culpably and recklessly failing to tell the woman he carried the infection and by having unprotected sex with her between September 2003 and February 2004. He was also found guilty of endangering her life and her health.
Mola, formerly of Home Street, Edinburgh, who fled after he was charged and had to be extradited from Italy, showed no emotion as the verdict was read out. Lord Hodge told him: "You have been convicted of a very serious sexual offence against Miss X. You have caused her lasting damage. While you have been struck by tragedy in acquiring HIV and hepatitis C from a former girlfriend, it is deeply disturbing you should have been prepared to show such an indifference to the health and welfare of Miss X."
The distraught victim's sister is the only member of her family who knows her secret. Miss X told the court during the trial: "I'm destroyed inside. I feel like it's murder ... I'm waiting to die."
Detective Chief Inspector Adrian Lawrie, of Lothian and Borders Police, praised Miss X for her "dignity, courage and fortitude" because she was determined to have her day in court.
He said: "She feels utterly betrayed by Mola.
The victim has taken steps to make sure she was as well as possible to give evidence - that may have involved her delaying some aspects of her treatment. She was determined her voice would be heard."
The court heard that, after their initial meeting, Miss X had been reluctant to go on a date with Mola, but he had texted her saying: "What's the harm in going out with a stranger?" At first, he had been affectionate and caring, but as their relationship developed, he was like "Jekyll and Hyde", she told the jury.
Despite Mola's claims that he had slept with 200 women, Mr Lawrie said detectives had "not uncovered any evidence" to suggest there had been other victims.
The Mola case is almost without precedent in Scots law. There has been only one previous case, in March 2001, when Stephen Kelly, a drug user, was charged with knowingly infecting his girlfriend with HIV.
Mola will be sentenced next month.
'If he's not insane, he's evil'
A SECOND woman who had sex with Giovanni Mola spoke last night of how the Italian would tell her guiltily he had been a "bad boy again", but would never say what he meant.
Ms Y, a Spanish social care worker and mother of one from Edinburgh, had a two-month relationship with Mola in 2004.
A year later, she discovered the Italian, who lived in Scotland for five years, had been accused of having sex with women while knowing he was infected with HIV and hepatitis C.
Ms Y now believes Mola was racked with guilt for what he was doing.
"He was often unhappy, and I remember him telling me more than once, 'I've been a bad boy again'," said Ms Y, who has tested negative for both diseases. "I thought at the time that he had some involvement with radical politics and was talking about being on a demonstration or something.
"He was often very cryptic and spoke like he had a heavy weight on his back. I think he was fighting with himself. He didn't like what he was doing, but he felt he had to do it."
The picture of Mola which emerges now is very different from her first impression.
"I thought he was intelligent and handsome.
I hope he won't get away with this. I don't want him to spend the rest of his life in jail, but I don't want him to be able to walk away."
Ms Y is also struggling with feelings of guilt because she was unable to face going to the police. "I keep thinking about this woman who has become infected and I feel so guilty. I know I have been lucky," she said.
Mola left the country suddenly in December 2004, but his friends in Edinburgh had no idea he was fleeing from a charge of deliberately infecting a woman with HIV and hepatitis C.
"I still don't understand why he did it," said Ms Y. "I prefer to think he is insane, because if he isn't, he must be evil."
Life is a river.
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