A North Adams man on Thursday admitted to killing his wife, the transgender activist Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, and was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years, prosecutors said.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office said in a statement.
Had Steele-Knudslien taken the case to trial and been convicted of first-degree murder, he would have faced a mandatory life term without the possibility of parole. So he accepted the offer to plead to second-degree murder, said his lawyer, Leonard Howard Cohen of the Pittsfield firm Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook.
Cohen declined to say whether Steele-Knudslien had expressed remorse for the killing.
Steele-Knudslien murdered his spouse on Jan. 4, 2018, in their North Adams home by stabbing her and striking her with a hammer, prosecutors said.
“I send my heartfelt condolences to those who loved Christa dearly and the entire transgender community who looked up to her as a leader," Harrington said in the statement. “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.”
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was a well-known advocate in the transgender community, helping to organize the first New England Trans Pride parade in 2008. Soon after that, she started a beauty pageant for transgender women in Northampton.
A probable cause statement filed in the case by State Police Trooper Ryan H. Dickinson provided harrowing details of the crime.
Dickinson wrote that Mark Steele-Knudslien went to the Adams Police Department on Jan. 5 and confessed to killing his wife the night before, telling Officer Michael Wandrei that he “had done something very bad and that [he] should be put in handcuffs. Steele-Knudslien then held out his hands as if he were to be handcuffed.”
Steele-Knudslien told Wandrei that he “killed Christa by striking her numerous times with a hammer and then finally killed her by stabbing her in the back with a large knife,” Dickinson wrote.
Authorities later found his wife’s body wrapped in a tarp in the couple’s basement. Steele-Knudslien told police that he killed his wife after an argument, and that “Christa was always belittling Steele-Knudslien and calling him derogatory names," Dickinson wrote.
Steele-Knudslien said he “snapped and killed Christa” in their living room around 5 p.m. on Jan. 4, 2018, ” the filing said.
Asked Friday about the nature of the argument, Cohen, the defense lawyer, said only that his client and Christa had been “at one another verbally for some lengthy period of time.”
Steele-Knudslien, for his part, maintained his composure after the slaying, according to Dickinson’s report. The trooper wrote that Steele-Knudslien told investigators he “cleaned up, took a shower, and went to the liquor store to buy alcohol” afterward.
An autopsy report showed the stab wound to Christa’s back “sliced through the upper lobe of her right lung and punctured her heart,” Dickinson wrote. “Blunt force trauma was noted on Christa and some of the injuries were consistent with defensive wounds. Christa suffered from multiple basilar skull fractures caused by blunt force trauma.”
Days after Christa’s death in 2018, Lorelei Erisis, winner of the first Mass Trans competition, recalled her as a “hell of a diva” who loved interacting with others.
"She wanted transgender women to be out and proud and beautiful,” Erisis said in an interview with Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham. “She was fantastic, a hell of a diva. She was a connector. . . . She enjoyed reaching out, and making social circles.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.