First known execution of a transgender

Amber McLaughlin, the first openly transgender person executed in the United States, was executed Tuesday by lethal injection after being convicted of a 2003 murder.

“McLaughlin was pronounced dead at 6:51 p.m.,” said a Missouri Department of Corrections statement. It was not clear whether McLaughlin had a final statement.

The execution of McLaughlin – the first in the United States this year – is unusual: Women are already rarely executed in the United States. Prior to McLaughlin’s execution, only 17 had been executed since 1976, when the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after a brief suspension. According to the non-profit organization, McLaughlin is the first openly transgender person to be executed in the United States.

McLaughlin, 49, and her attorneys had petitioned Republican Gov. Mike Parson for clemency, requesting that he commute her death sentence. They claim that McLaughlin, in addition to having shown genuine remorse and having struggled with intellectual disability, mental health issues, and a history of childhood trauma, has shown genuine remorse.

However, Parson’s office announced Tuesday that the execution will proceed as scheduled. Beverly Guenther’s family and loved ones “deserve peace,” the statement stated.

“The State of Missouri will carry out McLaughlin’s sentence according to the Court’s order,” Parson stated, “and deliver justice.”

It is reported that McLaughlin – listed in court documents as Scott McLaughlin – had not initiated legal name changes or transitions, and he was incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center near St. Louis as a death-sentenced individual. McLaughlin’s federal public defender Larry Komp and the governor’s office have said that the facility houses male inmates.

Court records indicate that McLaughlin was sentenced to death for Guenther’s murder in November 2003.

Guenther and McLaughlin had previously been in a relationship, but had separated by the time of the killing, and Guenther had been granted an order of protection against McLaughlin after she was arrested for burglarizing Guenther’s home.

Several weeks later, while the order was in effect, McLaughlin waited outside the victim’s workplace for Guenther. The prosecutors argued at trial that McLaughlin repeatedly stabbed and raped Guenther, pointing in part to blood spatters in the parking lot and in Guenther’s vehicle.

Court records indicate that McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder, forcible rape, and armed criminal action by a jury.

Nevertheless, the jury was unable to agree on a sentence.

In most states with the death penalty, a jury must vote unanimously in order to recommend or impose the penalty. Missouri, however, does not require a unanimous vote. A judge decides between life imprisonment without parole or death in cases in which a jury is unable to agree on the death penalty. The trial judge imposed the death penalty on McLaughlin.

McLaughlin’s attorneys argued that Parson would not have subverted the jury’s will if he granted clemency, since the jury could not agree on a capital punishment.

In the petition submitted to the governor, McLaughlin’s attorneys cited several grounds on which Parson should grant her clemency.

Besides the issue of a deadlocked jury, McLaughlin’s attorneys pointed to her mental health issues and childhood trauma. The petition states that McLaughlin has been “consistently diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability” as well as “universally diagnosed with brain damage and fetal alcohol syndrome.”.

According to the petition, McLaughlin was “abandoned” by her mother and placed in foster care. In one placement, ‘feces were thrown into her face’.

It was claimed that she later suffered more abuse and trauma, including being tased by her adoptive father, as well as depression that resulted in “multiple suicide attempts.”

According to the petition, McLaughlin’s jury did not hear expert testimony regarding her mental state at the time of Guenther’s murder. In their opinion, her testimony could have tipped the balance toward a life sentence by supporting the mitigation factors cited by the defense and rebutting the prosecution’s claim that McLaughlin acted with depravity of mind – that her actions were particularly brutal or “wantonly vile” – the jury’s sole aggravating factor.

According to court records, a federal judge in 2016 vacated McLaughlin’s death sentence due to ineffective counsel, which was attributed to her trial attorneys’ failure to present that expert testimony. However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed that ruling.

The execution of McLaughlin “would highlight all the flaws of the justice system and would be a great injustice on a number of levels,” Komp, her attorney, said previously.

“It would continue the systemic failures that existed throughout Amber’s life where no interventions occurred to stop and intercede to protect her as a child and teen,” Komp stated. “All that could go wrong did go wrong for her.”