S T. LOUIS — Unless Missouri Gov. Mike Parson grants clemency, Amber McLaughlin, 49, will become the first openly transgender woman to be executed in the United States. She is scheduled to die by injection on Tuesday for killing an ex-girlfriend in 2003.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Larry Komp, said there are no court appeals pending.
The clemency petition centers on several issues, including McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard at his trial. A foster father rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her foster father used a stun gun, according to her clemency petition. She says that she suffers from depression and attempted suicide several times.
There are no known cases of an openly transgender inmate having been executed before in the US, 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 his girlfriend Beverly Guenther. McLaughlin would appear at the suburban St. Louis office where Guenther, 45, worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records. Guenther obtained a restraining order and police officers sometimes escorted her to her car after her work.
Guenther’s neighbors called the police on the night of November 20, 2003, when she did not 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 her 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 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 years old. Due to her age when the crime occurred, she was released from prison in January 2022.
Hicklin, 43, began transitioning while in prison and in 2016 sued the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that prohibited hormone therapy for inmates who were not receiving it prior to incarceration. She won the lawsuit in 2018 and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin.
Although they were imprisoned together for around a decade, Hicklin said McLaughlin was so shy that he rarely interacted. But when McLaughlin began the transition about three years ago, he turned to Hicklin for guidance on things like mental health counseling and help ensuring his safety inside a male-dominated maximum-security prison.
“There’s always red tape and red tape, so I spent time helping her learn how to file the right documents 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 call girl talk,” Hicklin said. “She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you ever talked to her, it was always with dad jokes.”
They also discussed the challenges a transgender inmate faces in a men’s prison, such as obtaining feminine items, dealing with rude comments, and staying safe.
McLaughlin still had insecurities, especially about her well-being, Hicklin said.
“Definitely a vulnerable person,” Hicklin said. “I definitely have a fear of being assaulted or victimized, which is more common for trans people in the Department of Corrections.”
The only woman executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, executed on December 18, 1953, for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy. Heady was executed in the gas chamber, alongside the other kidnapper and murderer, Carl Austin Hall.
Nationwide, 18 people were executed in 2022, including two in Missouri. kevin johnson37, was executed on November 29 for ambushing and killing a Kirkwood, Missouri police officer. carmen deck he was executed in May for killing James and Zelma Long during a burglary at their home in De Soto, Missouri.
Another Missouri inmate, leonardo taylorHe is scheduled to die on February 7 for killing his girlfriend and their three young children.