A test case for a change

File/Associated Press
Michelle Kosilek as she appeared in 1993.

Robert Kosilek is as remarkable a man as you would ever want to meet.

First, he’s a certified wife killer, having been convicted of taking a wire to the throat of his beloved Cheryl, then hiding her body in the trunk of their car in the parking lot of a North Attleboro mall.

Then he showed up at his trial in a dress, calling himself Michelle, telling anyone who would listen that his inner woman was trying to overcome his, well, outer man. Even his lawyer seemed unsure whether to call him he or she.


Now in prison, serving a life term without possibility of parole, he’s grown his stringy brown hair all the way down his back. He wears polish on his fingernails. He says he pines every moment of every day to be the woman he was always meant to be. And he’s demanding that the state, meaning you and me, pay the $25,000 for a sex-change operation, which the more politically correct call a “sexual reassignment.”

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But none of this is remarkable, just standard-issue bizarre. What’s truly remarkable is his ability to make a complete and utter fool out of an otherwise thoughtful and respected federal jurist, US District Judge Mark L. Wolf.

Indeed, (s)he’s actually made a mockery of our entire penal system, and in the process is costing us thousands of dollars and dozens of hours of valuable court time.

Wolf, the same judge who brought the FBI to heel with his gutsy, book-length decision in the unfolding mob case, ruled last week that Robert Kosilek is entitled to a federal civil rights trial to determine if (s)he should have a state-funded sexual reassignment.

Prior to that decision, Wolf, who takes 10 minutes to cook one-minute rice, ordered the state to hire a psychologist, courtesy of the taxpayers, to determine Kosilek’s needs. The psychologist, Marshall Forstein, interviewed Kosilek for an hour and 15 minutes, then rendered a list of recommendations.


First, Forstein said Kosilek should have access to ongoing therapy with an expert in the field of transgenderism. Second, state officials should provide him female hormones with appropriate medical management and laboratory testing. Third, he should be provided consultation by an experienced surgeon to make him a woman.

That sexual reassignment isn’t just a matter of having his male organs, well, removed. No, Forstein recommended that (s)he also have all that unsightly male hair removed and cosmetic surgery to feminize his facial features, all so (s)he can, in Forstein’s words, “pass as truly female out in the world.”

Finally, Forstein said, (s)he should be given access to makeup, hair materials, and nail polish to allow him to be a “socially appropriate female.”

Forstein doesn’t address the key question of whether a “socially appropriate female” kills his or her wife.

Forstein’s report concludes by talking about the possibility of suicide if Kosilek isn’t given immediate help, about his “sadness and sense of loss” for having lived his life as a man.


For some expertise on sadness and loss, perhaps we should check in with Cheryl Landry’s family. She left two sons by a prior marriage, not to mention a whole host of other relatives.

“Her boys don’t have the privilege of seeing their mother,” says Catherine Landry, a niece. “Why should he get peace of mind. He says it’s cruel punishment. What about the cruel punishment he’s given to her boys and the rest of the family?”

Over at the prestigious firm of Hill & Barlow, lawyer Frances S. Cohen is dedicating her time, pro bono, to Kosilek’s cause, filling the court record with voluminous filings and forcing overworked state lawyers to respond. There are no needier clients, no worthier cases, for the firm to pursue?

And come autumn, Wolf will preside over a trial, virtually guaranteeing that Massachusetts will become a liberal laughingstock once again, even as sensible state officials adamantly fight Kosilek’s attempts at womanhood.

Here are a few questions the state might want to raise. If Kosilek wasn’t an inmate, would the state be expected to fund his expensive surgery? Will (s)he be transferred to a woman’s prison? Will (s)he be allowed to blow-dry his hair?

These are heady times. The state might be forced to fund a sex-change operation for a convicted murderer. Could this be what Governor William Weld meant when he said he’d like to reintroduce inmates to the “joys of busting rocks?”

Brian McGrory’s e-mail address is