ST. LOUIS (AP) — Unless Missouri Governor Mike Parson grants clemency, Amber McLaughlin, 49, will become the first openly transgender woman executed in the United States. She is expected to die by injection on Tuesday for killing a former girlfriend in 2003.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Larry Komp, said no appeal is pending.
The clemency request addresses several issues, including McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard at his trial. A foster parent rubbed feces on her face when she was a toddler and her foster father used a stun gun on her, according to the clemency petition. He says she suffers from depression and has attempted suicide several times.
The petition also includes reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anxiety and other symptoms due to a disparity between a person’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. .
“We think Amber showed incredible courage because I can tell you there’s a lot of hate about it,” her attorney, Larry Komp, said Monday. But, he said, McLaughlin’s sexual identity is “not the primary focus” of the clemency application.
Parson’s spokesperson, Kelli Jones, said the clemency application is still being reviewed.
There are no known cases of the execution of an openly transgender inmate in the United States 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.
Prior to the transition, McLaughlin was in a relationship with girlfriend Beverly Guenther. McLaughlin reportedly reported to the suburban St. Louis office where 45-year-old Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records. Guenther was granted a restraining order, and officers sometimes escorted her to her car after work.
Guenther’s neighbors called the police on the night of November 20, 2003, when she failed to return home. Officers went to the office building, where they found a broken knife handle near his 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 sentencing. In 2016, a court ordered a new sentencing hearing, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty in 2021.
One person who knew Amber before she transitioned is Jessica Hicklin, 43, who spent 26 years in prison for a drug-related murder in western Missouri in 1995. She was 16. Due to her age at the time of the crime, she was released in January 2022.
Hicklin, 43, began his transition in prison and in 2016 sued the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that barred hormone therapy to inmates who did not receive it before incarceration. She won the trial in 2018 and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin.
Although imprisoned together for about a decade, Hicklin said McLaughlin was so shy they rarely interacted. But as McLaughlin began her transition about three years ago, she turned to Hicklin for guidance on issues including mental health counseling and help keeping her safe in a prison in male-dominated maximum security.
“There’s always paperwork and bureaucracy, so I spent time helping him learn to categorize the right things and talk to the right people,” Hicklin said.
In the process, a friendship developed.
“We would sit down once a week and have what I called girl’s talk,” Hicklin said. “She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you’ve ever talked to him, it was always with dad jokes.
They also discussed the challenges a transgender inmate faces in a men’s prison — things like how to get female items, deal with rude comments and stay safe.
McLaughlin still had insecurities, particularly regarding his well-being, Hicklin said.
“Definitely a vulnerable person,” Hicklin said. “Definitely afraid of being assaulted or victimized, which is more common for trans people in the Department of Corrections.”
The only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, who was put to death on December 18, 1953, for abducting 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. Kevin Johnson, 37, was put to death Nov. 29 for the ambush killing of a Kirkwood, Missouri police officer. Carmen Deck was executed in May for killing James and Zelma Long during a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri.
Another Missouri inmate, Leonard Taylor, is expected to die Feb. 7 for killing his girlfriend and three young children.