Amber McLaughlin, a Missouri death row inmate, was the first transgender woman executed in the United States.

In what is believed to be the first execution of a transgender woman in the United States, a Missouri inmate was executed on Tuesday for a 2003 murder.

Amber McLaughlin, 49, was found guilty of stalking and killing a former girlfriend before disposing of her body near the Mississippi River in St. Louis. McLaughlin’s fate was sealed earlier Tuesday when Republican Gov. Mike Parson denied his request for clemency.

As the fatal dose of pentobarbital was injected, McLaughlin spoke quietly with a spiritual adviser by her side. McLaughlin took a few deep breaths before closing her eyes. A few minutes later, she was pronounced dead.

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

According to a database maintained by the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center, 1,558 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s. Except for 17, all of those executed were men. According to the center, there have been no previous cases of an openly transgender inmate being executed. McLaughlin began transitioning at Potosi State Prison about three years ago.

McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues were mentioned in the clemency petition, but the jury never heard about them during her trial. According to the petition, when she was a toddler, a foster parent rubbed feces in her face and her adoptive father used a stun gun on her. It mentioned severe depression, which led to multiple suicide attempts as a child and as an adult.

The petition also included reports of people being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that causes anguish and other symptoms due to a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and their assigned sex at birth. However, McLaughlin’s sexual orientation was “not the main focus” of her clemency request, according to her attorney, Larry Komp.

McLaughlin was in a relationship with Beverly Guenther in 2003, long before transitioning. According to court records, after they broke up, McLaughlin would show up at the suburban St. Louis office where the 45-year-old Guenther worked, sometimes hiding inside the building. Guenther obtained a restraining order, and she was occasionally escorted to her car after work by police officers.

When Guenther did not return home the night of November 20, 2003, her neighbors called the police. Officers went to the office building and discovered a blood trail and a broken knife handle near her car. McLaughlin led police to a location near the Mississippi River in St. Louis a day later, where the body had been dumped. Authorities claimed she was raped and repeatedly stabbed with a steak knife.

In 2006, McLaughlin was found guilty of first-degree murder. McLaughlin was sentenced to death by a judge after a jury deadlocked on the verdict. According to Komp, Missouri and Indiana are the only states where a judge can sentence someone to death.

In 2016, a court ordered a new sentencing hearing, but in 2021, a federal appeals court panel reinstated the death penalty.

“McLaughlin terrorized Ms. Guenther in the final years of her life, but we hope her family and loved ones may finally have some peace,” Parson said in a written statement following the execution.

According to Jessica Hicklin, who spent 26 years in prison for a drug-related killing before being released a year ago, McLaughlin began transitioning about three years ago. Hicklin, now 43, filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections, challenging a policy that prohibited hormone therapy for inmates who had not previously received it. In 2018, she won the lawsuit and became a mentor to other transgender inmates, including McLaughlin. McLaughlin, on the other hand, did not receive hormone treatments, according to Komp.

McLaughlin was described by Hicklin as a painfully shy person who came out of her shell after deciding to transition.

“She always had a smile and a dad joke,” Hicklin said. “If you ever talked to her, it was always with the dad jokes.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are approximately 3,200 transgender inmates in the country’s prisons and jails. Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who served seven years in federal prison for leaking government documents to Wikileaks until President Barack Obama commuted the sentence in 2017, is perhaps the most well-known case of a transgender prisoner seeking treatment. In 2015, the Army agreed to pay for Manning’s hormone treatments.

In a court filing in 2015, the United States Department of Justice stated that state prison officials must treat an inmate’s gender identity condition the same way they would treat other medical or mental health conditions, regardless of when the diagnosis occurred.

Bonnie B. Heady was the only woman executed in Missouri, on December 18, 1953, for kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old boy. Heady died in the gas chamber alongside the other kidnapper and murderer, Carl Austin Hall.

In 2022, 18 people were executed across the country, including two in Missouri. Kevin Johnson was executed in November for the murder of a Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer in an ambush. Carman Deck was executed in May for the robbery death of James and Zelma Long at their home in De Soto, Missouri.

Leonard Taylor, another Missouri inmate, is scheduled to be executed on February 7 for the murder of his girlfriend and her three young children.

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