US executes first transgender inmate

Nearly 20 years after Amber McLaughlin murdered her former girlfriend, the state of Missouri has put her to death. She is the first transgender woman to be executed in the US.

A lethal injection room at San Quentin Prison in California (photo credit: REUTERS)
A lethal injection room at San Quentin Prison in California
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Missouri executed Amber McLaughlin, the first openly transgender person to be put to death in the United States, according to CNN. McLaughlin was 49 years old at the time of her execution.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Missouri carries out executions at The Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

A 2008 decision of magistrate Judge Patricia L. Cohen details how, in late October of 2003, police were involved with multiple complaints from McLaughlin's then-ex-girlfriend, Beverly Guenther. The decision pertained to an appeal McLaughlin submitted to overturn her death sentence. Furthermore, the decision relates how McLaughlin had been found to have been stalking and harassing Guenther. Guenther had even received police protection at certain points.

Guenther had also obtained a restraining order against Mclaughlin.

Then, on November 20 of that year, McLaughlin murdered Guenther. "McLaughlin repeatedly stabbed and raped Guenther... pointing in part to blood spatters in the parking lot and in Guenther’s truck," CNN reported.

The Guardian reports that police then located the handle of a broken knife near Guenther's car as well as a trail of blood. The following day, McLaughlin directed authorities to where the body had been dumped near the Mississippi River in St. Louis. 

 The Old Courthouse, Saint Louis, Missouri (credit: WIKIMEDIA) The Old Courthouse, Saint Louis, Missouri (credit: WIKIMEDIA)

In 2006, a jury convicted McLaughlin of first-degree murder. The judge then prescribed a death sentence. The subsequent fight to overturn the sentence continued over the following two decades.

Judge Cohen wrote in her 2008 appeal decision that the appeal was submitted on the grounds that Mclaughlin believed her rights were, firstly, violated under the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause by allowing hearsay evidence to be admitted. Secondly, McLaughlin asserted that there was insufficient evidence to prove she "'knowingly entered unlawfully' a building or inhabitable structure."

Judge Cohen affirmed the previous court ruling.

The DPIC writes that in "2016, a federal district court overturned McLaughlin’s death sentence." The decision was made based on that the facts of McLaughlin's mental health status and history were never presented to the jury in her initial trial. "However, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed that ruling and reinstated her death sentence. The US Supreme Court subsequently declined to review her case."

Despite a last-minute appeal in late December to Republican Gov. Mike Parson for clemency, Missouri upheld its decision to carry out the sentence, according to CNN.

Death penalty in the US state of Missouri

Missouri is one of 27 states to retain the death penalty. According to the DPIC, Missouri's first execution took place in 1810. The state conducted hundreds of executions via hanging and gas until 1987 when inmates were given the option of lethal injection.

Capital punishment in the US faces criticism. Opponents of the death penalty argue that, in addition to being unethical, across the board, studies consistently show that it is markedly more expensive to execute a prisoner than to sentence them to life in prison without parole.

Additionally, executions have a tendency to go wrong. According to the DPIC, over 3% of all executions in the US are botched across all methods of execution. Furthermore, among lethal injections, such as the one used on McLaughlin, an estimated 7.12% are botched. This is the highest rate of all the methods. Nevertheless, it is a common method of execution and continues to be used.

"I am sorry for what I did. I am a loving and caring person."

Amber McLaughlin

McLaughlin's attitude was remorseful shortly before her execution. According to CNN, in a final statement, she wrote, "I am sorry for what I did. I am a loving and caring person."