The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution protects against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. That amendment is currently being tested in a hearing that began yesterday in the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, though opinions vary widely on who is the punisher and who is the punishee.
The case turns on the emotional well-being of one Michelle Kosilek, who is currently serving a life sentence in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution for the 1990 murder or her wife. If the term wife in the previous sentence creates confusion (Massachusetts failed to recognize same-sex marriage before 2004), perhaps it will help to know that Kosilek at the time was a man — sort of. As early as age 5, Robert Koselik, who had been relegated to an orphanage by abusive and uncaring parents, began dressing in girls’ clothing, insisting he was a girl.
Over the ensuing years, Koselik sought hormone replacement therapy, which he later said made him “feel normal” for the first time in his life. In spite of this newfound comfort in his own skin, Koselik continued a lifelong habit of drug abuse. It was during detox in a rehabilitation facility that Kosilek met Cheryl McCaul, who worked at the facility as a volunteer counselor. The two were married and in 1975 had a son.
The details between then and 1990, when police discovered Cheryl Koselik’s nude body in the back seat or her car in a deserted shopping mall, are somewhat sketchy. But the events of the next several days are vivid in their clarity. Robert Koselik was questioned by authorities and released. Three days later during an arrest for drunken driving he told the arresting officer matter-of-factly that he had murdered his wife.
In 2006, Koselik — now in prison and going by the name Michelle — sued the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for refusing to provide him with taxpayer-funded sex reassignment surgery. In 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in Koselik’s favor, ordering the state to pay for the operation. In his opinion, Wolf said that by refusing the surgery to Kosilek, who suffers from gender identity disorder, the court would be in violation of Kosilek’s Eighth amendment rights.
Before deciding whether taxpayers should be encumbered for the cost of the surgery, you might want to consider the circumstances of Cheryl Koselik’s death. In a series of recorded interviews Koselik gave in 1992, he revealed that he had killed his wife during an altercation that began when she arrived home and found him dressed in her clothing. He admitted to throwing boiling tea at her face and/or genitals, knocking her to the floor, chasing with a butcher’s knife, and ultimately strangling her with a length of piano wire. When police discovered her corpse, the wire was still around her neck, wound so tightly that it had nearly severed her head.
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