Amber McLaughlin, the first openly transgender woman to be executed in the United States, died by lethal injection Tuesday night in Missouri.
McLaughlin was pronounced dead at 6:51 p.m. at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
She was found guilty of first degree murder in 2006 for the murder of Beverly Guenther, and a judge sentenced her to death after the jury deadlocked on their sentencing decision. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson denied clemency Tuesday after advocates raised concerns about her sentence.
“McLaughlin is a violent criminal,” Parson said in a statement Tuesday. “Milisecond. Guenther’s family and loved ones deserve peace. The State of Missouri will carry out McLaughlin’s sentence in accordance with the court order and bring justice.”
McLaughlin spoke quietly with a spiritual adviser at his side as he was injected with the lethal dose of pentobarbital. McLaughlin took a couple of deep breaths, then closed his eyes. She was pronounced dead a few minutes later.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” McLaughlin said in a final written statement. “I am a caring and caring person.”
McLaughlin was in a relationship with Guenther prior to her transition, but Guenther obtained a restraining order after McLaughlin appeared multiple times at her workplace.
Officers found a broken knife handle near Guenther’s car and a trail of blood in his office building on the night of November 20, 2003, after neighbors reported that Guenther had not returned home. McLaughlin later led police to a location near the Mississippi River in St. Louis where Guenther’s body had been dumped.
The state was ordered to give McLaughlin a new sentence in 2016, but a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty in 2021.
McLaughlin’s clemency petition argued that the jury failed to hear concerns about his mental health. Her clemency petition included details of traumatic child abuse, such as a foster father rubbing feces across her face when she was a toddler, and her foster father using a Taser on her.
He suffered from depression, according to the clemency petition.
Advocates also expressed concern that McLaughlin was executed despite the fact that the jury was not unanimous. An online leniency petition, supported by the organization. Missourians for alternatives to the death penaltycalled the decision a “serious abuse of judicial power”.
“They were not convinced that Amber deserved the harshest punishment the justice system can offer.” the petition said. “But because of the Missouri loophole, the trial judge was able to overturn the jury’s decision and impose a death sentence on Amber.”
McLaughlin began her transition in prison about three years ago, according to a fellow inmate and friend, Jessica Hicklin.
Hicklin won a lawsuit in 2018 against the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that prohibited hormone therapy for inmates who did not receive it prior to incarceration.
Hicklin said he rarely spoke to McLaughlin before McLaughlin’s transition, describing his fellow inmate as shy. The two spent more time together as Hicklin offered guidance on filing for proper treatment and accessing mental health counseling, as well as tips on prison safety.
“Definitely a vulnerable person,” Hicklin said. “I definitely have a fear of being assaulted or victimized, which is more common for trans people in the Department of Corrections.”
phil helsell contributed.