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Convicted killer seeks sex change operation

A man serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife is asking a federal judge to order the state to pay for a sex change operation for him, saying that denying him the surgery amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

A psychiatrist testified yesterday that he believes Robert Kosilek will kill himself if state correction officials refuse to allow the surgery.

Kosilek, 57, was convicted of strangling his wife, Cheryl, in 1990.

In 2002, US District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Kosilek -- who now goes by the name Michelle -- was entitled to treatment for gender identity disorder, but stopped short of ordering the state to pay for the sex change operation.

Since then, Kosilek has received psychotherapy, female hormone treatments, and laser hair removal.

Kosilek, who wears his hair long and tucked behind his ears, has developed larger breasts since beginning hormone treatments.

Kosilek sued the Department of Correction for the second time last year, saying that numerous psychiatrists who had examined him -- including two of the department's specialists -- had determined that a sex change operation is ``medically necessary."

``We ask that gender identity disorder be treated like any other medical condition," said Kosilek's attorney, Frances Cohen.

Kosilek sat quietly yesterday as his attorney and an attorney for the Department of Correction made opening statements in a trial that is expected to last up to two weeks.

The Department of Correction attorney, Richard McFarland, said that Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy made the decision to deny surgery based on ``significant safety and security concerns."

Neither side gave an estimate on the costs of the sex change operation.

Dr. George Richard Brown, a psychiatrist who said he has treated more 1,000 patients with gender identity disorder, was asked by Kosilek's attorney what would happen if Kosilek does not have a sex change operation.

``I believe that she would kill herself," he said.

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