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First U.S. Execution of a Transgender Woman Set in Missouri

Gov. Mike Parson and Amber McLaughlin
Gov. Mike Parson and Amber McLaughlin

Amber McLaughlin, 49, is scheduled to be executed in January.

Missouri is set to carry out the nation's first known execution of a transgender woman early next month, but the death row prisoner is asking the state's governor for clemency saying the jury never heard about her mental health and abusive childhood.

Amber McLaughlin, 49, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on January 3, 2023, for the 2003 rape and stabbing murder of her ex-girlfriend, Beverly Guenther, who was 45 at the time.

McLaughlin's execution would be the first known execution of a transgender woman in the country. It would also be the first execution of a woman in Missouri since it resumed the practice in 1976.

The woman's lawyers sent a letter to Gov. Mike Parsons, asking that he consider McLaughlin's mental illness and abusive childhood in commuting the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"People should know I'm mentally ill," McLaughlin told the St. Louis Post Dispatch via telephone.

McLaughlin's clemency application claims she "never had a chance" and was failed by the individuals and institutions that should have protected her. As a child, she says she was tased and abused with a nightstick by her stepfather who was a police officer. She also claims she had feces rubbed on her face when she was a toddler.

The clemency application also notes that the decision to execute McLaughlin was not the voice of the jury, but instead of a single judge who imposed the death sentence after the jury deadlocked during the trial's sentencing phase.

McLaughlin and her lawyers chose not to call an expert psychiatric witness or present evidence regarding her mental health at trial.

While there is a chance Parson will grant clemency, he has not done so in the five previous executions that have taken place since he took office in 2018.

A spokesperson for Parson, Kelli Jones, said the governor seriously considers these decisions and that a process is underway regarding McLaughlin's request for clemency and the scheduled execution.

In a phone interview with the Riverfront Times, McLaughlin said she started wearing feminine clothing at the age of 12.

"I knew then this is what I wanted to be," she told RFT. "But I had to always do it secretly."

McLaughlin said she continued to present as a female privately once she moved into her own apartment, but continued to keep it a secret from others until only in the last few years.

McLaughlin had been dating Guenther prior to the 2003 murder, but Guenther had recently broken up with McLaughlin. She told friends she feared McLaughlin whom she said was stalking and terrorizing her, and that she had sought a restraining order for protection. Then presenting as a male, McLaughlin raped and stabbed Guenther to death on November 20, and later dumped her body in a parking lot. McLaughlin was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006. The death sentence was vacated on appeal in 2016, but was reinstated last year. McLaughlin also appears as a registered sex offender for a sexual assault against a 14-year-old girl in 1992 when McLaughlin was 19.

McLaughlin described her death sentence to RFT as "cruel and unusual punishment."

She also expressed remorse for murdering Guenther.

"I'm sorry," she quietly told the outlet. "I didn't mean for it to happen."

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