The state of Missouri plans to execute Amber McLaughlin on Tuesday evening, marking the first time in the US an openly transgender inmate has faced the death penalty.
McLaughlin, who began transitioning three years ago, was convicted of first-degree murder and rape for the 2003 killing of Beverly Guenther.
McLaughlin and Guenther had previously been in a relationship, and the former mercilessly harassed the later, prompting Guenther to seek a police protective order.
On 20 November, 2003, Guenther’s neighbours called police when she didn’t return home.
Officers found a broken knife handle and a trail of blood outside the woman’s office, and McLaughlin later showed officers a location near the Mississippi River in St Louis where she dumped the body, according to court records.
The inmate’s lawyers had petitioned Governor Michael Parson for clemency, pointing to evidence that McLaughlin suffered from intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, gender dysphoria, a history of suicide, and childhood trauma and abuse after being sent into the foster system.
The Republican governor rejected the request.
“McLaughlin’s culpability in Ms. Guenther’s murder has never been in question,” Mr Parson said in a statement on Tuesday. “McLaughlin’s conviction and sentence remains after multiple, thorough examinations of Missouri law. McLaughlin stalked, raped, and murdered Ms. Guenther. McLaughlin is a violent criminal. Ms. Guenther’s family and loved ones deserve peace.”
In the clemency petition, McLaughlin’s attorneys argued a trial court never heard planned expert testimony surrounding the inmate’s mental health, and that a jury was unable to reach a conclusion on a death sentence. A judge was the one who decided on execution, a rare practice that’s now only legal in two states.
“It is an incredibly hard thing to know someone can save you but choose not to,” Larry Komp, McLaughlin’s lawyer, told the Wall Street Journal. “This was an ideal case to grant clemency—a circumstance where Amber had no chance even before she was born, and a jury deadlocked, refused to return a death sentence.”
“The voice of the community should be an absolute requirement before an execution should proceed—it is absent here,” he added.
McLaughlin told St Louis Public Radio she was genuinely remorseful for the murder.
“I’m sorry,” she said shortly before her planned execution. “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
She told the radio station she struggled from a young age with her true identity.
“I think if I’d been my true self, I probably would not have been there,” she said.
In addition to being the first execution of a trans woman, Tuesday’s planned execution is one of the rare executions of a woman in the US. All but 17 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s have been of men, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are about 3,200 trans inmates in US prisons and jails, according to the Associated Press.
Missouri recently carried out another controversial execution, killing Kevin Johnson, convicted of a 2005 murder of a police officer, while denying his teenaged daughter’s request to witness the execution.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.