The 1st Execution of 2023
Amber McLaughlin, a transgender woman who was convicted of murder in St. Louis County, died by lethal injection Tuesday evening. McLaughlin, 49, was the first openly transgender person to be executed in the U.S., according to The Associated Press. She was pronounced dead at 6:51 p.m., the Missouri Department of Corrections said.
“Amber confronted her execution with great courage,” her attorney Larry Komp said in a statement sent to The Star, “and we take some solace in knowing Amber became her true self in what became her last years.” The execution was the second in five weeks in Missouri.
McLaughlin was convicted of murdering and raping her ex-girlfriend Beverly Guenther in 2003. Her execution was opposed by seven retired Missouri judges who argued in a letter to Gov. Mike Parson that the death sentence was handed down “via a flaw in Missouri’s capital sentencing scheme.” During the 2006 murder trial, the jury could not reach a decision on sentencing and rejected three of the aggravating circumstances prosecutors presented in arguing for the death penalty.
The judge handed down the death sentence. Missouri and Indiana are the only two states that allow a judge to impose capital punishment when a jury cannot make a decision. “It is difficult to comprehend how our fellow citizens were relegated to bystanders by a legal loophole,” Komp said. “The conscience of the community should be an absolute requirement before an execution should proceed – it is absent here.”
Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the loophole makes Missouri “an extreme outlier” and that it “reeks of injustice.” The head of the Missouri State Public Defender’s office also asked Parson for clemency. In a Dec. 26 letter, Mary Fox cited the Missouri Supreme Court’s reliance on a jury’s decision to sentence Kevin Johnson to death. He was executed Nov. 29.
During her trial, McLaughlin was represented by a public defender. Fox admitted that the attorney failed to present evidence about McLaughlin’s brain damage. “This strategic decision proved fatal,” Fox said. McLaughlin’s conviction was later overturned by a federal judge who found her trial attorney “constitutionally ineffective.” That was reversed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. McLaughlin began transitioning about three years ago, the AP said.
In her clemency application, attorneys for McLaughlin argued that she suffered abuse as a child, had a borderline intellectual disability and was remorseful. “It is difficult not to think of Amber as she was as a child, beaten, tased, dirty and hungry, and wonder how we, as a society, could not protect her. Amber immediately regretted her actions in killing Ms. Guenther and was tormented by the memory of what she had done,” Komp said.
“Recently, Amber confronted her impending execution by seeking spiritual renewal with her spiritual advisor and a loving community of people who accepted her for who she was. Her effort at renewal stands in stark contrast to the disenchanting nature of her death.” In a statement released Tuesday morning, Parson said, “McLaughlin’s conviction and sentence remains after multiple, thorough examinations of Missouri law. McLaughlin stalked, raped, and murdered Ms. Guenther. McLaughlin is a violent criminal.”
“Ms. Guenther’s family and loved ones deserve peace. The State of Missouri will carry out McLaughlin’s sentence according to the Court’s order and deliver justice.” Four states including Missouri have execution dates scheduled this year. On Feb. 7, Leonard “Raheem” Taylor is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Missouri.
Thirty-seven states have not had executions in the past decade, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
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