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Amber McLaughlin Is First Transgender Person Executed in U.S.

Amber McLaughlin

Amber McLaughlin's attorneys asked that her sentence be commuted, but the Republican governor of Missouri said no.


Missouri has carried out the first execution of an out transgender person in the U.S.

Amber McLaughlin, 49, died by lethal injection Tuesday. She was pronounced dead at 6:51 p.m. at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, NBC News reports. She received the death sentence in 2006 for the murder of a former girlfriend, Beverly Guenther, in 2003.

McLaughlin's attorneys asked Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to commute her sentence, citing her mental health issues and the fact that the jury in her case could not agree on whether to impose the death penalty. But Parson's office issued a statement Tuesday saying the sentence would be carried out, CNN reports. Guenther's loved ones "deserve peace," the governor said.

At the time of Guenther's killing in November 2003, she had taken out an order of protection against McLaughlin, who had been arrested for burglarizing Guenther's home. McLaughlin, according to court records, attacked Guenther outside the latter's workplace, raping and stabbing her.

A jury convicted McLaughlin of rape and first-degree murder but could not agree on punishment, so a judge imposed the death penalty. Missouri is one of the few states that does not require juries to be unanimous on capital punishment.

McLaughlin's lawyers had argued for clemency not only on the lack of unanimity but also because of her mental health problems -- which the jury did not hear about -- and the fact that she had shown sincere remorse for the crime. She has been "consistently diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability" and "universally diagnosed with brain damage as well as fetal alcohol syndrome," their petition says, according to CNN. She has attempted suicide several times.

Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver, both Democratic members of Congress representing Missouri, had called for McLaughlin's sentence to be commuted.

They recently wrote a letter to Parson asking for leniency, according to The Guardian.

The two said that the judge made a unilateral decision, while also emphasizing the "moral depravity" of the death penalty.

"They are not about justice; they are about who has institutional power and who doesn't. We urge you to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the power to grant clemency," Bush and Cleaver said in the letter.

"Ms. McLaughlin's cruel execution would mark the state's first use of the death penalty on a woman since the US supreme court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and even worse it would not solve any of the systemic problems facing Missourians and people all across America, including anti-LGBTQ+ hate and violence, and cycles of violence that target and harm women. It would simply destroy yet another community while using the concepts of fairness and justice as a cynical pretext," they wrote.

McLaughlin's relationship with Guenther took place before McLaughlin transitioned. She began her transition three years ago while incarcerated, the Associated Press reports.

Shortly before she died, she issued a final statement of remorse for the crime. "I am sorry for what I did," she wrote. "I am a loving and caring person."

The National Center for Transgender Equality denounced the execution, as it opposes the death penalty overall. "Recognizing that Amber McLaughlin is a transgender woman is essential to recognizing her humanity, especially in the context of a criminal legal system and a society that continue to deny the humanity and basic rights of our community." Alexis Vida Rangel, NCTE policy counsel, said in a statement to The Advocate. "NCTE is against the death penalty, regardless of the context of this case or any case. Violence cannot be addressed with more institutional violence. The use of the death penalty is a violation of human rights."

Lambda Legal condemned the move as well. Ethan Rice, senior attorney with the group's fair courts project, released this statement: "Lambda Legal is outraged and deeply saddened by the execution of Amber McLaughlin by the state of Missouri. Amber is the first known openly transgender woman to be executed in the United States. A first that should never have happened. For more than 20 years, Lambda Legal has opposed the death penalty because it is an irreversible and cruel misuse of government power. In Amber's case, a jury was unable to decide whether to sentence her to life in prison or to death. Then, the judge sentenced her to die. This is yet another example of the bias in sentencing that happens in death penalty cases across this country.

"Although Amber did not begin to transition until a few years ago, it is important to note that transgender people are disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated, with 21 percent of transgender women in the U.S. having been incarcerated at some point. This is the result of discrimination and stigma. We know that in many cases this could result in harsher sentencing. We must pay more attention to the bias and discrimination occurring in our legal system, particularly our criminal legal system, and focus our efforts on rooting it out."

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.