Squad member Rep. Cori Bush is being joined by a fellow Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver in an attempt to halt what would be the first execution of a transgender prisoner in US history.
Amber McLaughlin, now 49, was convicted of killing 45-year-old Beverly Guenther on Nov. 20, 2003. Guenther was raped and stabbed to death in St. Louis County after being stalked and terrorized by her killer. McLaughlin is due to be executed on January 3.
In 2006, McLaughlin was sentenced to death by Judge Steven Goldman after the jury remained deadlocked on her sentencing. McLaughlin was tried under her former name, Scott McLaughlin.
The Democrats wrote to Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson this week to argue that ‘crucial mental evidence’ was withheld from the jury in McLaughlin’s case.
This image, provided by the Federal Public Defender Office, shows death row inmate Amber McLaughlin
On Twitter, where Bush posted the December 27 letter, Bush stated her belief that: ‘The death penalty is cruel, barbaric, and inhumane.’ Previously, the St. Louis native called on President Biden to grant clemency to all federal death row prisoners.
Bush and Cleaver wrote: ‘As ordained ministers, we believe in accountability but also the sanctity of life and do not think these tenets are mutually exclusive. We must therefore make investments in the social and economic well-being of all people. In order to do so, we must first acknowledge the moral depravity of executions.’
The pair continued: ‘They are not about justice; they are about who has institutional power and who doesn’t. We urge you to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the power to grant clemency.’
On Tuesday, a petition with more than 6,000 signatures was dropped off at Parson’s office by anti-death penalty activists.
Rep. Cori Bush has represented Missouri’s 1st congressional district since 2020
McLaughlin was convicted of killing 45-year-old Beverly Guenther in 2003. Guenther was raped and stabbed to death. This photo comes from a 2017 mugshot under the name Scott McLaughlin, before she transitioned
The co-director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Elyse Max, the group behind the petition, told KRCG: ‘We just implore the Governor to find mercy in his heart. Amber is a gentle human. Everyone who knows her knows that Amber is not of future harm.’
Max also said that the group hopes to gain a few more thousand signatures between now and the scheduled execution date.
McLaughlin’s lawyers cited her traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard, in the clemency petition that was presented earlier this month.
A foster parent rubbed feces in her face when she was a toddler and her adoptive father tased her, according to the letter to Parson. She tried to kill herself multiple times, both as a child and as an adult.
However, this wasn’t McLaughlin’s first run-in with the law. She’s 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.
Bush and Cleaver wrote: ‘Ms. McLaughlin faced a traumatic childhood and mental health issues throughout her life. She experienced horrific abuse and neglect at the hands of various caregivers; court records indicate her adoptive father would frequently strike her with paddles and a night stick, and even tase her.’
They went on: ‘Alongside this horrendous abuse, she was also silently struggling with her identity, grappling with what we now understand is gender dysphoria.’
‘The abuse, coupled with the persistent mental turmoil surrounding her identity, led to mild neurological brain damage and multiple suicide attempts both as a child and as an adult,’ the Democrat continued.
An undated post-transition photo of Missouri inmate Amber McLaughlin
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
The pair concluded: ‘Ms. McLaughlin’s cruel execution would mark the state’s first use of the death penalty on a woman since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and even worse it would not solve any of the systemic problems facing Missourians and people all across America, including antiLGBTQ+ hate and violence, and cycles of violence that target and harm women.’
Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the Governor’s Office is reviewing her request for mercy.
‘These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly,’ Jones said.
Lawyers for Amber McLaughlin, now 49, on Monday asked Republican Gov. Mike Parson to spare her
McLaughlin is currently on death row at Potosi Correctional Center Prison in Mineral Point, Missouri
A federal judge in St. Louis ordered a new sentencing hearing in 2016, citing concerns about the effectiveness of McLaughlin’s trial lawyers and faulty jury instructions. But in 2021, a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty.
McLaughlin’s lawyers also listed the jury’s indecision and McLaughlin’s remorse as reasons Parson should spare her life.
Missouri has only executed one woman before, state Corrections Department spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said.
McLaughlin’s lawyers said she previously was rooming with another transgender woman but now is living in isolation leading up to her scheduled execution date
Pojmann said 9 percent of Missouri’s prison population is female, and all capital punishment inmates are imprisoned at Potosi Correctional Center.
‘It is extremely unusual for a woman to commit a capital offense, such as a brutal murder, and even more unusual for a women to, as was the case with McLaughlin, rape and murder a woman,’ Pojmann said.
Missouri executed two men this year. Kevin Johnson, a 37 year old who was convicted of ambushing and killing a St. Louis area police officer he blamed in the death of his younger brother, was put to death last month. Carmen Deck died by injection in May for killing James and Zelma Long during a robbery at their home in De Soto, Missouri, in 1996.
In 2022, the United States broke its own record for the amount of botched executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.