US set to execute first transgender woman for killing ex-girlfriend

The first transgender inmate in the US is set to die by lethal injection: Missouri trans woman, 49, raped and stabbed ex-girlfriend to death and dumped her body near a river in 2003 before transitioning in prison

  • First openly trans woman is set to be executed in Missouri on Tuesday
  • Amber McLaughlin, then known as Scott, raped and killed her ex-girlfriend
  • McLaughlin then dumped the body in St. Louis near the Mississippi River
  • The murderer, 49, will die by lethal injection unless Gov. Mike Parson intervenes

The first openly transgender woman on death row is set to be executed on Tuesday for raping and murdering her ex-girlfriend whose body she dumped by a Missouri river. 

Amber McLaughlin, 49, who transitioned in prison, will die by lethal injection 19 years after she killed Beverly Guenther, 45, who had taken out a restraining order and regularly had police officers walk her to her car out of fear for her life.  

The execution is set to be the first death of a transgender person in the U.S. Before transitioning in 2019, she went by the name Scott McLaughlin.

It comes less than a month after the inmate asked Missouri Governor Mike Parson to spare her from death due to ‘mental health issues.’ 

Death row inmate Amber McLaughlin, 49, set to be executed on December 3 in Missouri

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. 

Formerly Scott, McLaughlin was sentenced to death by a judge in 2006 as a persistent offender to consecutive terms of death for first degree murder, life for armed criminal action, and life for forcible rape. 

‘It’s wrong when anyone’s executed regardless, but I hope that this is a first that doesn’t occur,’ federal public defender Larry Komp, who represents McLaughlin, said. 

Komp said Monday there are no court appeals pending but they are hoping Gov. Parson grants clemency after a petition was filed in December. 

 McLaughlin will die by lethal injection 19 years after she killed her ex-girlfriend. She is pictured on the right before transitioning, in a mugshot from 2003 when she went by the name Scott McLaughlin 

‘Amber has shown great courage in embracing who she is as a transgender woman in spite of the potential for people reacting with hate, so I admire her display of courage,’ Komp said.

A spokesperson for Governor Parson said the review process for the clemency request is still underway. 

‘These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly,’ the spokesperson said in an email in December. 

The petition filed by Komp also includes 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.

‘We think Amber has demonstrated incredible courage because I can tell you there´s a lot of hate when it comes to that issue,’ her attorney, Larry Komp, said Monday. 

But, Komp said, McLaughlin’s sexual identity is ‘not the main focus’ of the clemency request.

The petition filed in December cited the prisoner’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues. 

An undated post-transition photo of Missouri inmate Amber McLaughlin

Lawyers claimed the issues the woman faced by the woman in her early childhood were never brought up during her trial.  

A foster parent rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her, according to the clemency petition. 

It says she suffers from depression and attempted suicide multiple times.

Opponents to clemency have pointed to the vicious nature of the crime and the history of stalking leading up to Guenther’s death.  

Others also acknowledge that she’s listed on the sex offender registry and was at one point was jailed for five years for the assault of 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 males and death row inmates

A spokesperson for Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the review process for the clemency request is still underway

In 2003, the victim’s neighbors had called police after she failed to return home 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. 

Previous to her death, Guenther reported McLaughlin would show up at her office and sometimes hide out in the building.

McLaughlin initially had a deadlocked jury and in 2016 was even awarded a new sentence. In 2021, however, a federal appeals court reinstated the death penalty. 

McLaughlin’s lawyers have pointed to the deadlocked jury in the initial trial as reasons Parson should spare her life. 

The inmate has been housed at the Potosi Correctional Center Prison in Mineral Point, Missouri, a prison specifically for high-risk male prisoners and death row inmates. 

McLaughlin officially began transitioning three years ago inside the prison, which is male dominated. 

McLaughlin is listed on the Missouri Sex Offender Registry and was at one point incarcerated for the 1992 sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. She was released in May of 1997

McLaughlin officially began transitioning three years ago inside the prison, which is male dominated

One person who knew Amber before she transitioned is Jessica Hicklin, 43, who spent 26 years in prison for a drug-related killing in western Missouri in 1995. She was 16. 

Hicklin began transitioning while in prison and in 2016 sued the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that prohibited hormone therapy for inmates who weren´t receiving it before being incarcerated. 

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

Though imprisoned together for around a decade, Hicklin said McLaughlin was so shy they rarely interacted. 

‘There’s always paperwork and bureaucracy, so I spent time helping her learn to file the right things and talk to the right people,’ Hicklin said.

In the process, a friendship developed.

‘We would sit down once a week and have what I referred to as girl talk,’ Hicklin said. ‘She always had a smile and a dad joke. If you ever talked to her, it was always with the dad jokes.’

They also discussed the challenges a transgender inmate faces in a male prison – things like how to obtain feminine items, dealing with rude comments, and staying safe.

McLaughlin still had insecurities, especially about her well-being, Hicklin said.

‘Definitely a vulnerable person,’ Hicklin said. ‘Definitely afraid of being assaulted or victimized, which is more common for trans folks in Department of Corrections.’

The only woman ever executed in Missouri was Bonnie B. Heady, put to death on December 18, 1953, for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy. 

Heady was executed in the gas chamber, side by side with the other kidnapper and killer, Carl Austin Hall.

Nationally, 18 people were executed in 2022, including two in Missouri. Kevin Johnson, 37, was put to death November 29 for the ambush killing of a Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer. 

Carmen Deck was executed in May for killing James and Zelma Long during a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri.

Another Missouri inmate, Leonard Taylor, is scheduled to die February 7 for killing his girlfriend and her three young children.

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