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First openly transgender woman set to be executed in the U.S. asks for mercy

Lawyers for Amber McLaughlin, 49, asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to spare her this week. McLaughlin was convicted of killing 45-year-old Beverly Guenther in 2003.
/ Source: Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The first openly transgender woman set to be executed in the U.S. is asking Missouri’s governor for mercy, citing mental health issues.

Lawyers for Amber McLaughlin, now 49, on Monday asked Republican Gov. Mike Parson to spare her.

McLaughlin was convicted of killing 45-year-old Beverly Guenther on Nov. 20, 2003. Guenther was raped and stabbed to death in St. Louis County.

There is no known case of an openly transgender inmate being executed in the U.S. before, according to the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center.

Amber McLaughlin
Amber McLaughlin.Jeremy S. Weis / Federal Public Defender Office via AP

“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.”

McLaughlin’s lawyers cited her traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard, in the clemency petition. A foster parent rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her adoptive father tased her, according to the letter to Parson. She tried to kill herself multiple times, both as a child and as an adult.

Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the Governor’s Office is reviewing her request for mercy.

“These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly,” Jones said in an email.

Komp said McLaughlin’s lawyers are scheduled to meet with Parson on Tuesday.

A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury was unable to decide on death or life in prison without parole.

A federal judge in St. Louis ordered a new sentencing hearing in 2016, citing concerns about the effectiveness of McLaughlin’s trial lawyers and faulty jury instructions. But in 2021, a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty.

McLaughlin’s lawyers also listed the jury’s indecision and McLaughlin’s remorse as reasons Parson should spare her life.

Missouri has only executed one woman before, state Corrections Department spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said in an email.

McLaughlin’s lawyers said she previously was rooming with another transgender woman but now is living in isolation leading up to her scheduled execution date.

Pojmann said 9% of Missouri’s prison population is female, and all capital punishment inmates are imprisoned at Potosi Correctional Center.

“It is extremely unusual for a woman to commit a capital offense, such as a brutal murder, and even more unusual for a woman to, as was the case with McLaughlin, rape and murder a woman,” Pojmann said.

Missouri executed two men this year. Kevin Johnson, a 37 year old who was convicted of ambushing and killing a St. Louis area police officer he blamed in the death of his younger brother, was put to death last month. Carmen Deck died by injection in May for killing James and Zelma Long during a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri, in 1996.