Amber McLaughlin, 49, will be the first transgender woman to be put to death in the U.S. if Missouri Gov. Mike Parson doesn’t pardon her. She will be killed by injection on Tuesday for killing an ex-girlfriend in 2003. Larry Komp, McLaughlin’s lawyer, said there are no pending court appeals.
The request for clemency focuses on a number of things, such as McLaughlin’s hard childhood and mental health problems that the jury never heard about at her trial. The clemency petition says that a foster parent rubbed poop in her face when she was a toddler, and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her. It says she has depression and has tried to kill herself more than once.
The petition also has reported a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is a condition that causes pain and other symptoms when a person’s gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were given at birth. “We think Amber is very brave because I can tell you that there is a lot of hate surrounding that issue, “Larry Komp, her lawyer, said Monday that McLaughlin’s sexuality is “not the main focus” of the request for clemency.
Kelli Jones, who works as a spokesperson for Parson, said that the request for clemency is still being looked at. The anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center says that a transgender inmate has never been put to death in the U.S. A friend of McLaughlin’s in prison says that she saw her personality grow as she changed from male to female.
Before he became a woman, McLaughlin was in a relationship with his girlfriend, Beverly Guenther. According to court records, McLaughlin would show up at the suburban St. Louis office where Guenther, 45, worked, sometimes hiding inside the building. Guenther got a restraining order, and sometimes police officers would walk her to her car after work.
When Guenther didn’t come home on the night of November 20, 2003, her neighbors called the police. When officers went to her office building, they found a broken knife handle near her car and a trail of blood. The next day, McLaughlin led the police to where the body had been dumped near the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
In 2006, McLaughlin was found guilty of first-degree murder. A judge gave him the death penalty after a jury couldn’t agree on a sentence. In 2016, a court ordered a new sentencing hearing, but in 2021, a federal appeals court panel brought back the death penalty.
Jessica Hicklin, now 43 years old, knew Amber before she changed. She spent 26 years in prison for a drug-related killing in western Missouri in 1995, when she was 16. Because she was only 16, she will be released from jail in January 2022.
Hicklin, who was 43 when she went to prison, started transitioning while she was there. In 2016, she sued the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a rule that said inmates couldn’t get hormone therapy if they hadn’t been getting it before they went to prison. She won the lawsuit in 2018 and now helps other transgender inmates like McLaughlin.
Even though they were both in prison for about ten years, Hicklin said McLaughlin was so shy that they rarely talked. However, when McLaughlin started to transition about three years ago, she turned to Hicklin for advice on mental health counseling and getting help to ensure she was safe in a maximum-security prison where most of the inmates were men.
“There’s always paperwork and red tape, so I spent time teaching her how to file the right things and talk to the right people, “Hicklin said. In the process, they became friends.
“We would get together once a week for what I called “girl talk,” ” said Hicklin. “She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you talked to her, it was always a dad joke. They also talked about the problems a transgender person faces in prison for men, such as how to get feminine items, deal with rude comments, and stay safe.
Hicklin said that McLaughlin still had doubts, especially about her health. “Most definitely a weak person, “Hicklin said. “I’m worried about being attacked or hurt, which is more likely to happen to trans people in the Department of Corrections.”
Bonnie B. Heady was the only woman put to death in Missouri. She was put to death on December 18, 1953, for taking a 6-year-old boy hostage and killing him. Heady and the other kidnapper and killer, Carl Austin Hall, were put to death in the same gas chamber.
In 2022, 18 people were put to death across the country, including two in Missouri. Kevin Johnson, 37 years old, was put to death on November 29 for killing a Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer in a surprise attack. Carman Deck was put to death in May for killing James and Zelma Long at their home in De Soto, Missouri, during a home invasion. Leonard Taylor, who killed his girlfriend and her three young children, is set to die in Missouri on February 7.
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