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Part Six: Was Cicely Bolden's Murder the Ultimate Result of HIV Stigma? Experts Weigh In

Part Six: Was Cicely Bolden's Murder the Ultimate Result of HIV Stigma? Experts Weigh In

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The chance that Larry Dunn would get HIV from Cicely Bolden via vaginal penetration is slim: four in 10,000. But with misinformation and stigma around HIV, he thought he was dying. Here's what the experts are saying about Larry Dunn's murder confession and why matters to anyone who cares about HIV.

As the Positive Women's Network-USA asks us to be aware of and fight violence against women living with HIV, HIV Plus has released the video interview and confession of Larry Dunn. Dunn was convicted for the 2012 murder of Cicely Bolden, a single mom in Dallas. What did he say was  his reason for stabbing the mother of two twice in the neck and leaving her half nude corpse for her two young children to find after school? She had HIV.

Less than 24 hours after he brutally stabbed 28-year-old Cicely Bolden to death in her apartment — and after hours in a police interrogation room — Larry Dunn broke. 

"I was enraged, man," Dunn says tearfully from under a blanket. "I was totally fucking blown away and I thought about her..."

For the following 13 ninutes, Dunn reveals his belief he was infected with HIV by Bolden because the two had condomless sex four times. His anger and, at times, his regret are evident. The confession came after his hours of denial to Dallas Police investigators. 

Media accounts at the time, and during his trial, reveal his final words in the confession: "She killed me, so I killed her."

But the confessions reveals so much more about Dunn's state of mind, HIV stigma, and ignorance related to HIV, the experts who reviewed the videos told HIV Plus. It shows a man who initially denied any involvement in the murder, but referred to Bolden as "a piece of pussy." He acts shocked when a detective informs him that Bolden had HIV. 

The Confession

"She gave me HIV, man," Dunn tells the detective when asked why he was enraged. "And she knew that she had HIV. This wasn't no secret."

Despite his anger at Bolden's HIV status and her alleged failure to tell him before they had sex, Dunn admits he made a decision to go to her place on the day of the murder to have sex with her again. The detective asks him, "Were you thinking about looking past the fact that she had HIV?"

"I was," Dunn replies. "Cause... I thought she was bullshitting. I thought it was something to test me to see if I liked her that much. I don't know."

The detective then asks him if he "really" had sex with Bolden the morning of the murder. Dunn can be seen nodding his head. "Knowing that she had HIV?"

"Again, man, we had already had sex like four times," Dunn explains. 

The detective asks, "So you didn't think one more was gonna matter?"

"Why would it? We fucked four times — unprotected with a chick with HIV," Dunn replies. 

He says since learning that Bolden was HIV-positive, he has been "a dead man walking." 

"All I could think about was why, and how she could possibly do this to somebody," he says. "Like, why? Why me?"

"I couldn't fucking believe it. I didn't know what I was wanted to do, or how I was gonna do it — or whatever — but I wanted to make her pay," he says. "Killing her wasn't on the menu, but that's just how it ended up."

Bolden, he says, started talking about HIV after the two finished having sex. He was angry, got up and went into the kitchen where he retrieved a steak knife. He went back into the bedroom, and stabbed Bolden in the neck, twice, he said. 

After that, he left the apartment, and the bleeding Bolden on the floor. Her body was found sometime later by her kids who were only 7 and 9 at the time. Dunn took his bloody clothing and burned them. The bloody knife, separated from the handle, was discarded in a dumpster behind a Waffle House. 

Dunn pleaded guilty in October of 2013. His defense team tried to convince a jury that his actions were the result of "sudden passion," which would have reduced his time in prison from a possible life sentence to a sentence of two to 20 years. The jury rejected the argument, and a judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison. 

Below: Killer Larry Dunn and Cicely Bolden

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The Deconstruction

Sean Strub, executive director of the Sero Project, said that while he's not condoning Dunn's actions he saw HIV-related stigma at play in the murder.

"Larry Dunn committed a horrific crime and should be punished," he said in an internet chat. "But the fault is not entirely his own. When Texas puts people with HIV in prison for 35 years for spitting, it is no surprise that some Texans are going to believe someone with HIV is inherently dangerous and respond irrationally when they think they might have been put at risk."

During the trial, Dunn's attorney admitted he had not tested positive for the virus. That fits well with the established science of transmission. The CDC reports that female-to-male transmission of HIV via vaginal penetration carries a chance of 4 infections per 10,000 penetrations. It is unclear if Bolden was on successful treatment — meaning she had an undetectable viral load. If she was, the risk of transmission is reduced by 96 percent. 

"This disturbing case demonstrates both the real and deadly repercussions of the misinformation and stigma that continues to surround HIV, but also the dangers associated with our historical tendency to place the burden of prevention transmission predominantly on the shoulders of people living with HIV," says Kyle Murphy, director of outreach and public affairs at The National Minority AIDS Council. "Not once does Dunn take responsibility for his own actions, but instead focuses on the perceived betrayal by Bolden for supposedly putting his life at risk."

"Listening to Larry Dunn's confession, I couldn't help but think this isn't necessarily a bad man," Strub said. "He is some one who responded irrationally and with deadly violence because he thought he and his family had been put at risk of harm or death. That doesn't excuse his taking of another person's life, but it should be considered one example of what can happen when people with HIV are defined as inherent threats to society."

But the violence goes much deeper than HIV-stigma. Dunn repeatedly refers to Bolden as a sexual object, and implies that as a man he had a right to sexual activity with her, without fear of contagion. While he discusses his concern for his family, he also admits Bolden was not the first woman with whom he had cheated on his wife. 

"The brutal murder of Cicely Bolden and subsequent angry comments expressed by Larry Dunn in his confession to the Dallas Police, are indicative of a larger culture of violence that rationalized brutality against women with HIV," says Naina Khanna, executive director of the Positive Women's Network-USA

PWN-USA launched a Day of Action today to draw attention to the crisis of violence faced by women living with HIV in the U.S. The organization says that more than half of the 300,000 women living with HIV in the U.S. have experienced intimate partner violence. They note such violence acts as a barrier to accessing and maintaining care and that three out of every four women living with HIV report a history of gender based violence — significantly higher than the national rate of one in every four women. 

The murder of Cicely Bolden is just one extreme example of violence against women living with HIV who disclose their status, says Joshua Moore, an attorney in Detroit, Michigan, whose entire practice, Detroit Legal Services, revolves around representing people living with HIV. 

"Clearly, this case is a perfect example of the stigma attached with HIV," Moore said. "As a legal service provider for those with HIV, I regularly see HIV used as a domestic violence tool for abusers. Here, Mr. Dunn in his own mind felt justified in taking a life over Cicely disclosing or not disclosing her HIV. The violence he perpetrated against Cicely is the exact reason we see individuals not disclosing their status because of fear and stigma."

You can watch the other videos by clicking the links here:

Dunn Initial Interview Part 1

Dunn Initial Interview Part 2

Dunn Initial Interview Part 3

Dunn's Interrogation Room Prayer Part 4

Dunn's Confession Part 5

Part Six: Experts Weigh in on the Case: Read the reactions of people living with HIV, advocates, and attorneys

 

 

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Todd Heywood

Editor

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.