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Taxpayer-funded sex-change surgery for transgender inmate put on hold

Lisa Bul / AP

In this Jan. 15, 1993, file photo, Robert Kosilek, aka Michelle Kosilek, sits in Bristol County Superior Court, in New Bedford, Mass. The convicted killer is suing the state of Massachusetts for the right to have a sex-change operation.

A federal judge on Tuesday put on hold his order calling for Massachusetts to pay for a convicted murderer's sex-change operation, allowing time for the state to appeal. 

The case involves a convicted wife-killer serving a life term who has legally changed his name to Michelle Kosilek. He sued the state Department of Corrections 12 years ago to force it to provide gender reassignment surgery. 

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf in Boston ruled in September that Kosilek must be allowed the surgery at state taxpayers’ expense, although that order did not set a deadline and left it to the state to determine who would perform the operation and where it would be performed.

On Tuesday, Wolf agreed to stay his order, which he has called “unpopular and misunderstood,” until the state’s appeal of the operation is decided. Wolf also rejected a request for electrolysis treatment for Kosilek, saying that would have to come as part of a new case, the Boston Globe reported

The plaintiff, born Robert Kosilek, has suffered from gender identity disorder since childhood, according to court papers. He married Cheryl, a counselor he met while in drug rehabilitation, but strangled her in 1990 when she caught him wearing her clothes. He dumped her body in a car at a mall in North Attleborough, Mass., and fled to New York state before being arrested, according to court records.

Kosilek was convicted of murder in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He has received hormone treatments and lives as a woman in an all-male prison.

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Wolf has used male pronouns to refer to Kosilek throughout the court proceedings.

The judge ruled in September that the state had violated Kosilek's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by denying him the sex-change surgery. Corrections Department medical personnel had recommended the surgery, saying it was medically necessary to treat his gender identity disorder.

Wolf remarked in his September decision that Kosilek is “a man who truly believes that he is a female cruelly trapped in a male body.”

The state has appealed the September ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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