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Crime News Murders

First Openly Transgender Woman Executed In U.S. For 2003 Murder And Rape In Missouri

Amber McLaughlin, who began transitioning three years ago in prison, was executed after the Missouri governor denied clemency on a conviction for a 2003 rape and murder.

By Caitlin Schunn
Exes and Lovers Killed By Jealousy

The first known execution of an openly transgender woman in the U.S. was carried out in Missouri on Tuesday when Amber McLaughlin was put to death by lethal injection.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson granted 21 pardons in December, but McLaughlin was denied clemency; she was convicted of the November 2003 murder and rape of her ex-girlfriend, Beverly Guenther. McLaughlin was pronounced dead at 6:51 p.m. Tuesday, according to CNN.

“McLaughlin’s conviction and sentence remains after multiple, thorough examinations of Missouri Law,” the governor’s office said in a release in the hours before her death. “McLaughlin stalked, raped, and murdered Ms. Guenther. McLaughlin is a violent criminal. Ms. Guenther's family and loved ones deserve peace.”

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Before she transitioned, McLaughlin was in a relationship with Guenther, but the two separated. McLaughlin waited outside Guenther's workplace, then raped and stabbed her as she tried to get into her vehicle, according to the governor’s office.

death row inmate Amber McLaughlin

“McLaughlin terrorized Ms. Guenther for months prior to the point where Ms. Guenther had an order of protection against McLaughlin after McLaughlin broke into her home,” the governor’s office said. “McLaughin’s culpability in Ms. Guenther’s murder has never been in question. Missouri courts have found no issue in the application of Missouri law to McLaughlin, and federal appellate courts have maintained as much.”

In the clemency request, McLaughlin’s lawyers cited 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, according to the Associated Press.

McLaughlin’s lawyers pointed to her struggles with mental health, and history of childhood trauma, as part of her clemency petition to the governor of Missouri. McLaughlin was “consistently diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability” and had “brain damage from fetal alcohol syndrome,” according to the petition, CNN reported. The petition also said McLaughlin was abandoned by her mother, placed in the foster care system, and suffered abuse such as feces put into her face, and being tased. The petition said McLaughlin battled depression, and attempted suicide multiple times, according to CNN.

“People should know I’m mentally ill,” McLaughlin told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an interview. “I don’t agree with [the execution]. I’m trying to stay calm.”

Her lawyers also argued the jury did not hear expert testimony about her mental state during the trial, which could have led the jury to impose a life sentence, according to CNN. The jury was unable to agree on a life sentence versus the death penalty, so the trial judge imposed the death penalty.

“I am sorry for what I did,” McLaughlin wrote in her final statement, released by the Department of Corrections to CNN. “I am a loving and caring person.”

McLaughlin began transitioning about three years ago, according to Jessica Hicklin, who spent time in prison with her, the AP reported.

“We would sit down once a week and have what I referred to as girl talk,” Hicklin told the AP. “She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you ever talked to her, it was always with the dad jokes.”

Previously, the only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie Heady in December of 1953, for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy, according to the AP.

The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks death penalty numbers, is aware of at least nine transgender women on death row across the United States, Robert Dunham, executive director of the center, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Dunham said McLaughlin was the first transgender person to be executed.

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