The first openly transgender woman on death row is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for raping and murdering her ex-girlfriend, whose body she dumped in a Missouri river.
Amber McLaughlin, 49, who defected in prison, will die by lethal injection 19 years after she killed Beverly Guenther, 45, who held a restraining order and was regularly escorted to her car by police officers fearing for her life .
The execution is said to be the first death of a transgender person in the United States. Before her transition in 2019, she went by the name Scott McLaughlin.
It comes less than a month after the inmate asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to save her from dying because of “mental health issues.”
Death row inmate Amber McLaughlin, 49, is scheduled to be executed in Missouri on December 3
Beverly Guenther, 45, was killed by McLaughin on November 20, 2003
McLaughlin killed Guenther on November 20, 2003 and dumped her body in St. Louis near the Mississippi River.
McLaughlin, formerly of Scott, was sentenced by a judge in 2006 to consecutive death penalties for first-degree murder, life for armed criminal offense, and life for violent rape.
“It’s wrong for someone to be executed anyway, but I hope this is a first that doesn’t happen,” said federal defense attorney Larry Komp, representing McLaughlin.
Komp said Monday there are no appeals pending, but they hope Gov. Parson will grant clemency after a petition was filed in December.
McLaughlin will die by lethal injection 19 years after the murder of her ex-girlfriend. She is pictured right before the transition in a 2003 mugshot when she went by the name Scott McLaughlin
“Amber has shown great courage in accepting herself as a transgender woman, despite the potential for people to react hatefully, so I admire her courage,” said Komp.
A spokesman for Gov. Parson said the clemency review process is still ongoing.
“These are not decisions the governor is taking lightly,” the spokesman said in an email in December.
The petition filed by Komp also includes reports citing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anxiety and other symptoms as a result of a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and their birth-assigned gender.
“We believe that Amber has shown incredible courage because I can tell you that there is a lot of hate when it comes to this issue,” her attorney Larry Komp said Monday.
But, according to Komp, McLaughlin’s sexual identity is “not the focus” of the clemency plea.
The petition, filed in December, related to the prisoner’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues.
An undated photo of Missouri inmate Amber McLaughlin after transition
Lawyers claimed the problems the woman faced in her early childhood were never addressed during her trial.
A foster parent rubbed feces on her face as a toddler and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her, according to the clemency plea.
It states that she suffers from depression and has attempted suicide several times.
Opponents of the pardon have pointed to the vicious nature of the crime and the history of stalking that led to Günther’s death.
Others also concede that she is on the sex offender register and was once sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting a 14-year-old girl.
McLaughlin is currently on death row at Potosi Correctional Center Prison in Mineral Point, Missouri, a prison for high-risk men and death row inmates
A spokesman for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the clemency review process is still ongoing
In 2003, the victim’s neighbors called the police after she failed to return from work.
Officers went to the office building where the woman worked, where they found a broken knife handle near her car and a trail of blood.
A day later, McLaughlin led police to the location where her body was dumped.
Before her death, Guenther reported that McLaughlin would show up at her office and sometimes hide in the building.
McLaughlin initially faced a deadlocked jury and even got a new sentence in 2016. However, in 2021, a federal appeals court reinstated the death penalty.
McLaughlin’s attorneys have pointed to the deadlocked jury in the first trial as reasons why Parson should spare her life.
The inmate was being held at Potosi Correctional Center Prison in Mineral Point, Missouri, a prison specifically for high-risk male inmates and death row inmates.
McLaughlin officially began transitioning into the male-dominated prison three years ago.
McLaughlin is listed in the Missouri Sex Offender Registry and was once imprisoned for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in 1992. She was released in May 1997
McLaughlin officially began transitioning into the male-dominated prison three years ago
One person Amber knew before her transition is Jessica Hicklin, 43, who served 26 years in prison for a 1995 drug-related murder in western Missouri. She was 16 years old.
Hicklin began transitioning while in prison, suing the Missouri Department of Corrections in 2016 to challenge a policy that banned inmates from receiving hormone therapy that they had not received prior to their incarceration.
She won the lawsuit in 2018 and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin.
Although Hicklin was incarcerated together for about a decade, Hicklin said McLaughlin was so shy that they rarely interacted.
“There’s always paperwork and bureaucracy, so I spent time helping her file the right things and talk to the right people,” Hicklin said.
In the process, a friendship developed.
“We sat down once a week and talked, as I called it,” Hicklin said. “She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you ever spoke to her, it was always with the dad jokes.’
They also discussed the challenges faced by a transgender inmate in a male prison — things like sourcing female items, dealing with rude comments, and security.
McLaughlin still has insecurities, especially around her well-being, Hicklin said.
“Definitely a vulnerable person,” Hicklin said. “Definitely afraid of being attacked or bullied, which is more common for trans people in prison.”
The only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, who was executed on December 18, 1953 for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy.
Heady was executed in the gas chamber alongside the other kidnapper and murderer, Carl Austin Hall.
In 2022, 18 people were executed nationwide, including two in Missouri. Kevin Johnson, 37, was executed on November 29 for the ambush of a police officer from Kirkwood, Missouri.
Carmen Deck was executed in May for killing James and Zelma Long in a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri.
Another Missouri inmate, Leonard Taylor, is reported to die on February 7 for killing his girlfriend and their three young children.