Transgender woman pleads guilty in husband’s death by excessive exercise

By | February 14, 2009

A 41-year-old transgender woman pleaded guilty Thursday to reckless homicide for exercising her 73-year-old husband to death.

Christine Newton-John faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced. A date for the sentencing has not been set.

Her husband, James Mason, suffered a heart attack June 2 after being forced to swim for a long time in the pool at the Middlefield Village apartment complex, where they lived.

Middlefield Police Chief Joseph Stehlik said it was the strangest case he has ever investigated.

“The man was exercised to death,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

Newton-John was born a male and named John Vallandingham.

Vallanding ham underwent gender reassign ment surgery in 1993 and changed his name to Chris Newton-John, in honor of his fa vorite singer, Olivia Newton-John, Stehlik said.

Mason had been friends with the Vallandingham family since before his future wife was born.

He lived in a boarding house operated by Newton-John’s grandmother and for a time shared a bedroom with John Vallandingham.

In 2006, Newton-John and Mason married in Kentucky, a state that allows people to change the gender on their birth certificate, which thereby permitted the marriage. …

Stehlik said his deputy was suspicious of Mason’s death because he had investigated previous complaints of abuse of Mason. The whole matter might have been dismissed as a death by heart attack if a police officer hadn’t noticed the surveillance camera fixed above the pool.

Police viewed the tape and saw Newton-John abusing her frail husband, who friends said was deathly afraid of water.

Stehlik counted 43 times in which Newton-John prevented her husband from leaving the water. She dragged him around by his arms and legs. On several occasions, he laid his head on the side of the pool gasping for breath.

“The video is bone-chilling,” Stehlik said. “The whole case is very sinister. My personal feeling is that what she did was more intentional than reckless. This is a case that could just slip through the cracks.”

Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce said the video would have had a profound impact on a jury, but he didn’t know if it would have been enough to go for a charge of murder.

“A grand jury indicted on a reckless homicide charge,” he said.

“You can see the man struggling for his life on the tape, but there is no audio, so we couldn’t hear what he was saying. All in all, I’m satisfied with the plea.”

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