Amber McLaughlin Missouri: The proposed execution of the transgender woman would take place in the US first

ST. LOUIS — Nearly 1,600 death row inmates have been executed in the US since 1977, but an execution scheduled for Tuesday in Missouri would be the first of an openly transgender woman.

Amber McLaughlin, 49, is set to die after stalking and stabbing a former girlfriend nearly 20 years ago. With no legal appeals planned, McLaughlin’s fate rests with Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is considering a clemency petition.

A database from the Anti-Execution Death Penalty Information Center shows that 1,558 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s. All but 17 of them were men, and the center said there were no known previous cases of an openly transgender inmate being executed.

A clemency plea cited McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues that the jury at her trial had never heard of. A foster parent rubbed feces on her face as a toddler and her adoptive father used a stun gun, the petition said, which also cited severe depression that led to multiple suicide attempts both as a child and as an adult.

The petition also included reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anxiety and other symptoms as a result of a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and their birth-assigned gender. But McLaughlin’s sexual identity is “not the focus” of the clemency plea, her attorney Larry Komp said.

In 2003, well before the transition, McLaughlin was in a relationship with Beverly Guenther. After they stopped dating, McLaughlin showed up at the office in the St. Louis suburb where Guenther worked and sometimes hid in the building, according to court records. Guenther obtained a restraining order, and police officers occasionally escorted her to her car after work.

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Günther’s neighbors called the police on the night of November 20, 2003 when she did not return home. Officers went to the office building, where they found a broken knife handle and a trail of blood next to her car. A day later, McLaughlin led police to a location near the Mississippi River in St. Louis where the body had been dumped.

McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006. A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury deadlocked on the verdict. Komp said Missouri and Indiana are the only states that allow a judge, rather than a jury, to sentence someone to death.

A court ordered a new sentencing hearing in 2016, but a federal appeals court reinstated the death penalty in 2021.

McLaughlin began the transition about three years ago, Jessica Hicklin recalled. Hicklin, 43, sued the Missouri Department of Justice, challenging a policy that banned inmates from receiving hormone therapy they did not receive before they were incarcerated. She won the lawsuit in 2018 and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin.

Hicklin, who served 26 years in prison for a drug-related murder before being released a year ago, described McLaughlin as an achingly shy person who came out of her shell after choosing to transition.

“She always had a smile and a father joke,” Hicklin said. “If you’ve ever spoken to her, it’s always with the dad jokes.”

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that there are 3,200 transgender inmates in the country’s jails and jails.

Perhaps the best-known case of a transgender prisoner seeking hormone therapy was that of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who served seven years in federal prison for leaking government documents to Wikileaks until President Barack Obama commuted the sentence in 2017. The Army agreed to pay for Manning’s hormone treatments in 2015.

McLaughlin has not had any hormone treatments, comp said.

The U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a 2015 court filing that state prison officials must treat an inmate’s gender identity condition as they would treat any other medical or mental illness, regardless of when the diagnosis was made.

The only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, who was executed on December 18, 1953 for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy. Heady was executed in the gas chamber along with the other kidnapper and murderer, Carl Austin Hall.

In 2022, 18 people were executed nationwide, including two in Missouri. Kevin Johnson was executed in November for the ambush killing of a police officer in Kirkwood, Missouri. Carman Deck was executed in May for killing James and Zelma Long in a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri.

Another Missouri inmate, Leonard Taylor, is reported to have died on February 7. He was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their three young children.

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Amber McLaughlin Missouri: The proposed execution of the transgender woman would take place in the US first

Laura Coffey

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