Man Sentenced to Life for Murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The murderer of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien will spend life in prison.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
Steele-Knudslien had killed Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, his wife of less than a year, on the evening of Jan. 4, 2018, in their North Adams home by stabbing her and striking her with a hammer.
"I send my heartfelt condolences to those who loved Christa dearly and the entire transgender community who looked up to her as a leader," said District Attorney Andrea Harrington. "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 well known in the transgender community in the region. She was the first transgender person killed in 2018 and her death had helped spark awareness of the vulnerability of transgender people to violence and domestic violence in general.
"I thank the Adams, North Adams, and Massachusetts State Police for their investigation which gave us the evidence we needed to secure this conviction and sentence," Harrington said. "We are holding the perpetrator accountable for his actions."
State Police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office, members of the North Adams and Adams police departments and State Police Crime Scene Services Section conducted the investigation.
No Injuries & Minimal Damage in Mohawk Forest Fire
The call came over the scanner just after noon Friday. Dispatch reported that smoke was seen bellowing out of apartment 34.
"We were right on scene and there was a little light haze of smoke down near the front door," Lt. Brent Lefebvre said. "We went into the building and found just some charring and some embers above the stove in the cabinets. We put it out with a water extinguisher."
Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said the occupant appeared to have left a stove burner on but at the time of the call was not in the apartment. He said heat detectors were triggered along with the internal smoke detectors that rang throughout the building.
An on-duty maintenance man noticed the alarm, entered the apartment, took the pan off the stove and doused the fire with some water, the chief said.
Although he was successful in containing the fire to just the kitchen and had it largely extingured before the trucks arrived, Meranti said the department never recommends that anyone ever enter a possible burning building.
"The guy did a good job and by doing that did contain it to that area but putting yourself in that situation without protection — we do not recommend it," he said.
Meranti said people should call 911 and only direct firefighters toward a blaze.
Lefebvre said firefighters checked to see if the fire spread through the walls but determined the damage was really concentrated near the stove.
Meranti said the occupant will stay with family until the damage is repaired by Mohawk Forest staff. There was a dog in the apartment that was rescued.
North Adams Police and the Wire and Alarm Division, and Northern Berkshire EMS were on scene.
Death of Assault Victim Has DA Seeking Murder Charge
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshire district attorney intends to seek a murder charge indictment against a North Adams man who has been held by authorities since the brutal beating of his wife five months ago.
Charli Cook, 41, died at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Sunday, Dec. 1. She'd been hospitalized there since July 11 after what authorities say was a brutal attack by her husband, Michael Cook Sr., at their Chase Avenue home.
Michael Cook, then 42 years old, was arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court on single counts of assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and assault and battery on a family or household member.
With his wife's death on Sunday, District Attorney Andrea Harrington said she will seek a murder charge against Cook.
"I send my condolences to Charli Cook's family and friends," she said in a statement. "The investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates who have been working on this case were heartbroken by her passing. We are determined to obtain justice for Charli."
Michael Cook has been held without bail at the Berkshire County House of Correction after being determined a danger to the community.
When police responded to the call on July 11, they found Charli Cook unresponsive and bleeding from a large wound on the back of her head. She was taken to Baystate for surgery and had been placed in a coma. She suffered a skull fracture.
The police report filed with initial charges say Cook admitted to the crime on the scene saying,"I just snapped for a minute."
According to court records, Cook has a long history of domestic violence and sexual assault, including a conviction for child rape. In 2015, he was charged with assault and battery after allegedly assaulting his wife. That case was dismissed. In 2016, his wife had filed for a restraining order against him, claiming he assaulted her multiple times and mentally abused her.
Two-Vehicle Crash on Mass Ave Injures Four
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Tuesday morning two-car accident sent four to Berkshire Medical Center North's emergency satellite facility with only minor injuries.
Police responded to the accident around 9 a.m. near Church Hill on Massachusetts Avenue, near Blackinton Church.
A gray Nissan Rogue eastbound toward the city center was sideswiped by a red Toyota Venza sedan traveling west, according to police.
This portion of the heavily traveled street is often narrowed by vehicles parked along the side of the road.
An officer conducting preliminary accident reconstruction said the Toyota appears to have left its lane of travel and that the Nissan, after being sideswiped by the Toyota, dug its driver's side tire into the edge of the road, turning the vehicle over.
It came to rest on Blackinton Manor's front lawn but people in the area were able to flip the car over before the police, ambulance, and fire trucks arrived.
The three passengers in the Nissan were transported to the emergency facility along with the single driver in the Toyota.
Police reported that none of the injuries appeared to be serious. The road in this section was briefly closed to traffic until the scene could be cleared. The vehicles were removed by Dean's Towing and Mohawk Auto.
North Adams Police Arrest Suspect in Armed Robberies
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police have arrested a suspect in two armed robberies that occurred overnight Saturday and Sunday.
The first robbery occurred about 9 p.m. on Saturday when Dave's Package Store at the corner of River and Canal streets set off a hold up alarm.
Dispatch was able to verify upon calling the business that the clerk was held up by an individual who was brandishing a knife. The person fled the area before officers arrived.
However, the suspect was able to be identified by officers from the security footage. Officers checked known locations of where the individual stays but could not locate the suspect.
Then Sunday morning at approximately 4:40 a.m., a second armed robbery occurred at Dunkin' Donuts by the same method. In that case, an individual made off with a sum of money from one of the registers after going behind the counter and brandishing a knife toward the clerk. Again, the suspect fled the area but the description given led officers to believe the two incidents were connected by the same individual.
An officer who had remained in the area of Dunkin' Donuts observed the suspect walking in the Union Street area just before 7 a.m. This was the same person who was identified at first robbery. The suspect began to flee from the officer immediately. A foot chase then ensued that led from Union Street to the River Street area.
The office caught up with the suspect on River Street but the individual resisted arrest. Backup officers arrived shortly after, at which time the suspect was taken into custody. The initiating officer and the suspect were both injured during the arrest.
The officer and suspect were both treated and released at Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams campus. The suspect will remain in custody at the North Adams Police Department on $7,540 cash bail until being brought to Northern Berkshire District Court on Monday morning.
The name of the individual is being withheld at this point to prevent "public shaming," according to the post by Police Chief Jason Wood.