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Amber McLaughlin could be the first out trans woman executed in the US. She’s asking for mercy.

Amber McLaughlin
Amber McLaughlinPhoto: Missouri Department of Corrections

Amber McLaughlin has asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) for mercy after being set to become the first out trans person in the country to be executed.

McLaughlin, 49, was convicted in the 2003 murder of Beverly Guenther, who was raped and stabbed to death on November 20. Her lawyers say she has mental health issues that the jury never heard about that should allow her clemency.

According to the AP, the clemency petition details the trauma McLaughlin experienced as a child, including being tased by her adoptive father, having feces rubbed in her face by a foster parent, and multiple suicide attempts.

Her house was known by her friends as the “house of horrors,” and her parents kept the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator locked. She also suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.

The clemency petition says she “never had a chance” and “was failed by the institutions, individuals, and interventions that should have protected her.”

The petition also cited her “genuine remorse” for the crime and said she “remains tormented” by what happened.

“It’s wrong when anyone’s executed regardless, but I hope that this is a first that doesn’t occur,” said federal public defender Larry Komp. “Amber has shown great courage in embracing who she is as a transgender woman in spite of the potential for people reacting with hate, so I admire her display of courage.”

In the petition, McLaughlin’s lawyers argued that the jury’s inability to decide McLaughlin’s sentence was another reason she should be granted clemency. It was ultimately a judge who sentenced her after a jury could not agree on whether to give her life in prison or the death penalty.

“The death sentence now being considered does not come from the conscience of the community — but from a single judge,” the clemency petition declares.

“An act of executive clemency therefore will not encroach on the reverence of jury verdicts and, in fact, will more accurately reflect the jury’s wishes regarding punishment since it did not vote for death.”

Kelli Jones, a spokesperson for Gov. Parson, said his office is currently considering the petition and that “these are not decisions that the governor takes lightly.”

McLaughlin’s execution is scheduled for January 3. An online petition to stop it sponsored by the anti-death penalty organization Death Penalty Action has garnered over 1500 signatures.

“Amber McLaughin’s death sentence is unconstitutional because it was decided by a St. Louis County judge after a jury could not conclude that she deserves the ultimate punishment,” the petition states, explaining that a legal loophole in the state allowed the judge to override the deadlocked jury.

It also points out McLaughin suffered “extreme abuse and neglect during her child[hood] resulting in mild neurological brain damage” and says her lawyers did not present that information to the jury.

“Amber is one of six individuals living under a death sentence imposed by former St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullouch, who is now known to have been corrupt and who overused his sentencing powers to put people to death,” the petition adds. “St. Louis County is the 6th most executing county in the nation, and McCullouch is largely responsible.

McLaughlin recently spoke to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

“People should know I’m mentally ill,” she said, adding that her execution sentence is “a sad thing” and “I don’t agree with it.”

“I’m trying to stay calm,” she said.

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