'I'm a loving person': final words of first transgender inmate executed in the US, after killing ex-girlfriend

4 January 2023, 06:11 | Updated: 4 January 2023, 09:55

Amber McLaughlin
Amber McLaughlin. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

An inmate was put to death in the US state of Missouri on Tuesday, in what is thought to be the first case of a transgender prisoner being executed in the country.

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Amber McLaughlin, 49, is accused of stalking and murdering a former girlfriend, before dumping her body in the Missouri river near the city of St Louis.

McLaughlin was executed on Tuesday after Missouri governor Mike Parson, a Republican, turned down an appeal for clemency.

"I am sorry for what I did," McLaughlin said in a final written statement. "I am a loving and caring person."

She spoke quietly with a spiritual advisor before being given the lethal injection. She breathed heavily, before closing her eyes, and was pronounced dead a few minutes later.

Amber McLaughlin
Amber McLaughlin. Picture: Missouri Department of Corrections

A database on the website for the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Centre shows that 1,558 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s.

All but 17 of those put to death were men. The centre said there are no known previous cases of an openly transgender inmate being executed. McLaughlin began transitioning about three years ago at the state prison in Potosi.

The clemency petition cited McLaughlin's traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard during her trial.

It cited severe depression that resulted in multiple suicide attempts, both as a child and as an adult.

The petition also included reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anguish and other symptoms as a result of a disparity between a person's gender identity and their assigned sex at birth.

But McLaughlin's sexual identity was "not the main focus" of the clemency request, her attorney, Larry Komp, said.

In 2003, long before transitioning, McLaughlin was in a relationship with Beverly Guenther. After they stopped dating, McLaughlin would show up at the suburban St Louis office where the 45-year-old Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building, according to court records.

Ms Guenther obtained a restraining order, and police officers occasionally escorted her to her car after work.

Ms Guenther's neighbours called police the night of November 20 2003 when she failed to 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 the body had been dumped. Authorities said she had been raped and stabbed repeatedly with a steak knife.

McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006. A judge sentenced McLaughlin to death after a jury deadlocked on the sentence.

Mr Komp said Missouri and Indiana are the only states that allow a judge to sentence someone to death.

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A court in 2016 ordered a new sentencing hearing, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty in 2021. "McLaughlin terrorised Ms Guenther in the final years of her life, but we hope her family and loved ones may finally have some peace," Mr Parson said in a written statement after the execution.

McLaughlin began transitioning about three years ago, according to Jessica Hicklin, who spent 26 years in prison for a drug-related killing before being released a year ago.

Ms Hicklin, now 43, sued the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that prohibited hormone therapy for inmates who were not receiving it before being incarcerated.

She won the lawsuit in 2018 and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin.

McLaughlin did not receive hormone treatments, however, Mr Komp said.