Woman set to be first openly transgender person to be executed in US history

Amber McLaughlin (AP)
Amber McLaughlin (AP)

A woman is set to become the first openly transgender person to be executed in the United States.

Amber McLaughlin, 49, is scheduled to die by injection in the Midwestern state of Missouri on Tuesday for killing a former girlfriend in 2003.

There is no known case of an openly transgender inmate being executed in the US before, according to the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center.

McLaughlin, who transitioned in prison, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006 for killing ex-girlfriend Beverly Guenther.

McLaughlin would show up at the office in suburban St Louis, Missouri where 45-year-old Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records. Guenther obtained a restraining order, and police officers occasionally escorted her to her car after work.

Guenther’s neighbours called the police the night of November 20, 2003, when she did not come 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 Guenther’s body had been dumped.

A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury deadlocked on the sentence. A court in 2016 ordered a new sentencing hearing, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death sentence in 2021.

McLaughlin’s legal team have submitted a clemency request, which needs to be approved by Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson to be successful.

His spokesperson, Kelli Jones, said the request is still being reviewed.

The clemency request focuses on several issues, including McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard about during her trial.

According to the clemency petition, McLaughlin suffers from depression and has tried to take her own life multiple times. It details that a foster parent rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her.

The petition also includes reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is a sense of deep unease – at times leading to depression and anxiety – caused by the disparity between a person’s gender identity and their assigned sex at birth.