Unless Missouri Gov. Mike Parson grants clemency, Amber McLaughlin, 49, will become the first transgender woman executed in the U.S. She is scheduled to die by injection Tuesday for killing a former girlfriend in 2003.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Larry Komp, said there are no court appeals pending.
The clemency request focuses on several issues, including McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard in her trial. A foster parent rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her, according to the clemency petition. It says she suffers from depression and attempted suicide multiple times.
The petition also includes reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anguish and other symptoms as a result of a disparity between a person’s gender identity and their assigned sex at birth.
“We think Amber has demonstrated incredible courage because I can tell you there’s a lot of hate when it comes to that issue,” Komp said Monday. But, he said, McLaughlin’s gender identity is “not the main focus” of the clemency request.
Parson’s spokesperson, Kelli Jones, said the review process for the clemency request is still underway.
There is no known case of a transgender inmate being executed in the U.S. before, according to the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center. A friend in prison says she saw McLaughlin’s personality blossom during her gender transition.
Before transitioning, McLaughlin was in a relationship with girlfriend Beverly Guenther. McLaughlin would show up at the suburban St. Louis office where the 45-year-old Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records. Guenther obtained a restraining order, and police officers occasionally escorted her to her car after work.
Guenther’s neighbors called police the night of Nov. 20, 2003, when she failed to return home. Officers went to the office building, where they found a broken knife handle near her car and a trail of blood. A day later, McLaughlin led police to a location near the Mississippi River in St. Louis, where the body had been dumped.
McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006. A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury deadlocked on the sentence. A court in 2016 ordered a new sentencing hearing, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty in 2021.
The only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, put to death on Dec. 18, 1953, for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy. Heady was executed in the gas chamber, side by side with the other kidnapper and killer, Carl Austin Hall.
Nationally, 18 people were executed in 2022, including two in Missouri.
Another Missouri inmate, Leonard Taylor, is scheduled to die Feb. 7 for killing his girlfriend and her three young children.