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On Tuesday, Amber McLaughlin of Missouri will be one of nearly 1,600 inmates executed since 1977. McLaughlin will also be the first openly transgender woman put to death.
McLaughlin was found guilty of stalking and murdering her ex-girlfriend. According to The Hill, “In 2003, long before transitioning, McLaughlin was in a relationship with Beverly Guenther. After they stopped dating, McLaughlin would appear at the suburban St. Louis office where Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records. Guenther obtained a restraining order, and police officers occasionally escorted her to her car after work.”
On the evening of November 20, 2003, neighbors contacted the police when Guenther failed to return home. When officers went to the office building, they discovered a broken knife handle near her car and a trail of blood. The next day, McLaughlin led police to a location near the Mississippi River in St. Louis where they’d dumped the body.
Three years later, McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The decision came down to a judge when the jury assigned to the case was deadlocked on the sentence.
In 2016, a court ordered a new sentencing hearing for McLaughlin, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty in 2021.
Missouri moving ahead with execution of transgender woman
In a last ditch effort, McLaughlin’s attorneys then submitted a petition to halt the execution, highlighting traumatic events in her childhood that weren’t revealed to the jury.
Amber was reportedly abused by foster parents who rubbed feces in her face when she were a toddler. The petition also details how Amber’s adoptive father used a stun gun on them, citing severe depression that resulted in multiple suicide attempts, both as a child and as an adult.
The petition also included reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association defines it as psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Though gender dysphoria often begins in childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later. Another inmate stated that Amber began transitioning in 2019.
“We think Amber has demonstrated incredible courage because I can tell you there’s a lot of hate when it comes to that issue,” her attorney, Larry Komp, said Monday. But, he said, McLaughlin’s sexual identity is “not the main focus” of the clemency request.
Despite these efforts, Missouri Governor Mike Pearson said he would not halt the execution of Amber McLaughlin. McLaughlin’s attorneys have not planned any legal appeals.