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Transgender death row inmate set to be executed in January files clemency application with Missouri governor

<i>Jeremy S. Weis/Federal Public Defender Office/AP</i><br/>Amber McLaughlin
Jeremy S. Weis/Federal Public Defender Office/AP
Amber McLaughlin

By Rebekah Riess and Emma Tucker, CNN

A transgender woman who is scheduled to be executed in Missouri next month for murdering a woman in 2003 has filed a clemency application with the governor, citing struggles with brain damage and childhood trauma, the petition says.

Amber McLaughlin — listed in court documents as Scott McLaughlin — is set to be executed by lethal injection on January 3 for the 2003 murder of Beverly Guenther, according to her clemency application with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican.

“The lead investigating officer contemporaneously noted McLaughlin’s genuine remorse, as has every expert to evaluate McLaughlin in the years since the trial,” the application filed by her attorneys states, adding that McLaughlin has been “consistently diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability,” and “universally diagnosed with brain damage as well as fetal alcohol syndrome.”

A spokesperson for the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-execution organization, told CNN that McLaughlin is the first transgendered prisoner to be given an execution date.

McLaughlin was “abandoned” by her mother and placed into the foster care system, and in one placement, had “feces thrust into her face,” according to the petition.

In one foster home, McLaughlin suffered abuse and trauma that included being tased by her adoptive father, the petition says, and she battled depression that led to “multiple suicide attempts.”

The petition alleges that the jury in McLaughlin’s trial was not presented with evidence detailing her mental health struggles. The jury was ultimately deadlocked “after finding just one of four alleged statutory aggravating factors to be true.” The death penalty in McLaughlin’s case was imposed by a trial judge, according to the petition.

McLaughlin’s lawyers argue she should be spared because she has expressed genuine remorse for Guenther’s death.

The governor’s legal team will meet with McLaughlin’s attorneys on Tuesday to discuss her petition, according to Kelli Jones, communications director for the governor.

“These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly, and the process is underway as it relates to the execution scheduled for January,” Jones said.

McLaughlin’s federal public defender, Larry Komp, told CNN his client’s execution “would highlight all the flaws of the justice system and would be a great injustice on a number of levels.”

“It would continue the systemic failures that existed throughout Amber’s life where no interventions occurred to stop and intercede to protect her as a child and teen. All that could go wrong did go wrong for her. There is so much hate out there, so I admire Amber and her courage as she embraces who she is,” Komp wrote in a statement.

According to Komp and the governor’s office, McLaughlin has not initiated a legal name change or transition and as a death-sentenced person, is kept at Potosi Correctional Center near St. Louis, which houses male inmates.

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