The Advocate reports:
The husband of a Massachusetts transgender woman has pleaded guilty to her murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, of North Adams, was beaten with a hammer and then stabbed to death January 4, 2018, in her home. Her husband, Mark S. Steele-Knudslien, turned himself in to police that night, saying he had done “something very bad,” but a few days later he pleaded not guilty. Last week he changed his plea to guilty, and he received the life sentence Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court, The Berkshire Eagle reports.
“This is yet another horrific domestic violence homicide in the Berkshires,” Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a statement. “My office focuses on holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable and this sentence will keep a very dangerous person away from the community for years to come. I send my heartfelt condolences to those who loved Christa dearly and the entire transgender community who looked up to her as a leader.”
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was founder of the Miss Trans America and Miss Trans New England pageants, and an organizer of the New England Trans United Pride March and Rally.
Mark S. Steele-Knudslien said he “snapped” after an argument with his wife, according to the Eagle. The couple had reportedly had problems for some time, and the night of the murder, they were sleeping on an air mattress downstairs in their home because it was too hot upstairs, the paper notes. Mark said he became enraged when Christa yelled at him for shifting around on the mattress, and that’s when he began attacking her. He tried to clean up the crime scene before turning himself in.
Mark’s attorney, Leonard Cohen, said his client had serious but untreated mental health issues. Mark, now 49, will be eligible for parole in 25 years, but it’s a “big if” as to whether he will ever be released, Cohen said.
In an impact statement read in court by First Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Karen Bell, Christa’s father, Robert, and her brother, Jason, said they hope Mark will never get out of prison. They said they had lost their best friend, and in a particularly brutal manner.
Ashley Shade and Jennifer Wahr of the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition released a statement after the sentencing saying justice had been served, but that Christa was irreplaceable. “The message is so often that transgender lives are less valuable, and deserve less justice,” they said. “That message is disturbing, painful, and unjust, and has real consequences to the lives of those in our community. This message starts to change when justice is served. But nothing can replace what was lost to our community when Christa was killed.”
Constant reports of violence against our community are difficult to read, especially as we continue to face historic rates. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach out to the Anti-Violence Project’s free bilingual (English/Spanish) national hotline at (212) 714-1141 or report online for support.