A Massachusetts man has been sentenced to life in prison after confessing to crushing his wife’s skull with a hammer and stabbing her to death following a domestic argument in 2018.
Mark Steele-Knudslien pleaded guilty on Jan. 23 to killing his wife Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, a well regarded transgender rights activist in the community, during a domestic dispute in the tiny northwest Massachusetts city of North Adams over two years ago. Berkshire County Superior Court Judge John Agostini sentenced the 49-year-old to life in prison on the same day.
“We are holding the perpetrator accountable for his actions,” Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a statement last week. “This is yet another horrific domestic violence homicide in the Berkshires. 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.”
Authorities said Mark Steele-Knudslien wandered into Adams Police Department around 8:40 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2018 and told officers he should be handcuffed and that he had “done something very bad,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
He admitted to striking his spouse “numerous times” with a hammer before stabbing her in the back with a “large” stainless steel knife he pulled from the kitchen butcher block, police said. Detectives found the 42-year-old woman’s body wrapped in a tarp and bound with rope in the couple’s basement. A blood-soaked sponge and paper towels were found in a kitchen trash bag.
A medical examiner later determined that Steele-Knudslien wife had sustained several skull fractures in the attack and ruled she had died from extreme blood loss.
Investigators said the 49-year-old then cleaned up the scene, showered, went to the liquor store to purchase booze, and transported his wife’s body to the basement, the complaint went on to say.
The day before her death, Christa Steele-Knudslien posted a photo on Facebook of her snow-blowing a sidewalk. Prosecutors described her as a “leader” in the local transgender community and said she was “looked up to.”
“She was a huge inspiration to the transgender community here in Western Massachussetts,” Harrington told Oxygen.com. “Her activism was really full of joy and fun and I think meant a lot to people here in our community and she is very, very sorely missed.”
The LGBTQ activist helped organize New England’s first transgender pride parade in 2008, according to the Boston Globe.
“It’s a pathetic situation,” Leonard H. Cohen, Mark Steele-Knudslien’s defense attorney, told Oxygen.com. “But in light of those circumstances, [the sentence] was probably as good as it ever could be, and probably a little bit better.”
Berkshire County prosecutors – who originally sought first-degree murder charges against Steele-Knudslien –agreed to a plea deal with the man’s defense team, which saw the charge downgraded to a charge of second-degree murder.
“That was the end product, the big factor being that they agreed to drop first-degree murder and substitute second-degree murder and make him eligible for parole,” Cohen added.
Steele-Knudslien’s legal team was pleased with the outcome but also acknowledged it was a bittersweet conclusion to a tragic case.
“There is really no good outcome in these types of these situations,” Alexander Sohn, another defense attorney for Steele-Knudslien, said.
Berkshire County has some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in Massachusetts, officials said. The rate for restraining order requests, for example, is 33% higher than the state average, according to the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a Massachusetts-based domestic violence prevention nonprofit.
“Our office is putting a tremendous amount of work into prevention in addition to holding people accountable,” Harrington, the county’s lead prosecutor, added. “In domestic [violence] homicide cases, there are almost always signs there is a potentially lethal situation.”
Steele-Knudslien will be eligible for parole in 25 years, but Harrington noted he would be approaching his mid-70s by the time he’s eligible for release.
“He’ll be pretty elderly at that point,” Harrington said.
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