Amber McLaughlin: First openly trans death row inmate in US pleads for mercy citing mental health issues

Amber McLaughlin: First openly trans death row inmate in US pleads for mercy citing mental health issues
Missouri woman Amber McLaughlin is set to become the first openly transgender woman to be executed in the US (Federal Public Defender Office)

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI: The first openly transgender woman scheduled for execution in the United States is pleading for compassion from Missouri's governor Mike Parson by citing mental health problems. There are no outstanding court appeals, according to Larry Komp, the attorney for Amber McLaughlin. As of Monday, January 2 morning the online petition asking Parson to halt the execution had gathered roughly 4,900 of the 6,400 signatures it needed.

McLaughlin is set to be executed by injection on Tuesday, January 3 for the murder of an ex-girlfriend, 45-year-old Beverly Guenther on November 20, 2003. Guenther was murdered by stabbing in St Louis County after being raped. According to the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center, there has never been a known instance of an openly transgender prisoner being executed in the United States.

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On December 12, attorneys presented a request for executive clemency to the governor, requesting Parson to reduce McLaughlin's sentence to life in prison and pointing out that she was not sentenced to death in a jury trial. McLaughlin's sentence was decided by a St Louis county judge after the jury couldn't agree on punishment during her trial. According to the application, Indiana and Missouri are the only two states in the United States that permit trial judges to impose death sentences in the event that a jury is deadlocked, as reported by CBS News. 

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The clemency petition focuses on a number of concerns, such as McLaughlin's difficult background and her mental health problems, which the jury was not made aware of during her trial. The clemency petition claims that when she was a toddler, her foster parent wiped feces in her face and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her. It claims that she has a history of depression and has made several suicide attempts.

“It’s wrong when anyone’s executed regardless, but I hope that this is a first that doesn’t occur,” federal public defender Larry Komp said. “Amber has shown great courage in embracing who she is as a transgender woman in spite of the potential for people reacting with hate, so I admire her display of courage," as reported by NBC News.

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McLaughlin had a relationship with Beverly Guenther before she transitioned. According to court documents, McLaughlin would appear at the 45-year-old Guenther's suburban St Louis workplace, often hiding inside. Police officers occasionally escorted Guenther to her vehicle after work due to the restraining order she had received. When Guenther didn't come home on the evening of November 20, 2003, her neighbors alerted the police. Officers arrived at the office building and discovered a blood trail and a broken knife handle close to her car. A day later, McLaughlin directed police to the spot where Guenther's body had been discarded in St Louis, close to the Mississippi River. Guenther had been raped and killed by stabbing in St Louis County, it was later discovered.

In 2006, McLaughlin was found guilty of first-degree murder. McLaughlin was condemned to death by a judge after a jury deadlocked on the verdict. In 2016, a court ordered a new sentencing hearing, but in 2021, a federal appeals court panel imposed the death penalty. Additionally, McLaughlin's attorneys argued that Parson should spare her life due to the jury's impasse and McLaughlin's remorse. Furthermore, a prison acquaintance claims to have witnessed McLaughlin's personality develop throughout her gender transformation. According to McLaughlin's attorneys, she formerly shared a room with a transsexual woman but is now living alone as she approaches her scheduled execution date.

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