Transgender inmate on Missouri’s death row asks for mercy

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The first openly transgender woman to be executed in the U.S. begs Missouri’s governor for clemency, citing mental health issues.

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

McLaughlin was found guilty of the November 20, 2003 murder of 45-year-old Beverly Guenther. Guenther was raped and stabbed to death in St. Louis County.

According to the Anti-Execution Death Penalty Information Center, there has been no known case of an openly transgender inmate being executed in the United States.

“It’s wrong for someone to be executed anyway, but I hope this is a first that doesn’t happen,” said federal public defender Larry Komp. “Amber has shown great courage in embracing herself as a transgender woman, despite the potential for people to react with hate, so I admire their courage.”

McLaughlin’s attorneys cited her traumatic childhood and mental health issues in the clemency petition, which the jury never heard. A foster parent rubbed feces on her face as a toddler and her adoptive father verbally abused her, according to the letter to Parson. She attempted suicide several times, both as a child and as an adult.

Parsons spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the governor’s office is reviewing her clemency petition.

“These are not decisions the governor is taking lightly,” Jones said in an email.

Komp said McLaughlin’s attorneys would meet with Parson on Tuesday.

A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury failed to rule on death or life imprisonment without parole.

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

McLaughlin’s attorneys also cited the jury’s indecisiveness and McLaughlin’s remorse as reasons why Parson should spare her life.

Missouri has executed only one woman so far, state corrections officer Karen Pojmann said in an email.

McLaughlin’s lawyers said she previously lived with another transgender woman but is now living in isolation ahead of her scheduled execution date.

Pojmann said that 9% of Missouri prison inmates are female and all death penalty inmates are incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center.

“It is extremely unusual for a woman to commit a felony such as brutal murder, and even more unusual for a woman to rape and murder a woman, as in McLaughlin’s case,” Pojmann said.

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


Hanna reported from Topeka, Kan.

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