The story of a death penalty case where the condemned is asking for mercy from Gov. Mike Parson (R-MO) is generating a considerable amount of buzz, more so than is typical. That's because the condemned, who goes by Amber McLaughlin, is a transgender inmate, born Scott McLaughlin.
A report from Summer Ballentine and John D. Hanna for the Associated Press acknowledge that McLaughlin is transgender from their headline on, but don't mention McLaughlin's biological name. The report also refers to the condemned using she/her pronouns. Much is made about how McLaughlin would be the first openly transgender inmate executed in the United States.
McLaughlin was found guilty of raping and stabbing to death an ex-girlfriend, 45-year-old Beverly Guenther on Nov. 20, 2003. A judge sentenced the accused to death after a jury could not decide between the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
"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 is quoted as saying. "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."
Regardless as to one's views on the death penalty, that McLaughlin is a biological man but now identifies as female should not make the state carrying out the death penalty, if it chooses to do so, any better or worse. It's also hardly something to "admire" or refer to as a "display of courage."
The headline and the report itself detail McLaughlin's mental health concerns, which the jury had not heard, and which are disturbing in nature:
McLaughlin’s lawyers cited her traumatic childhood and mental health issues, which the jury never heard, in the clemency petition. 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.
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 in an email.
Komp said McLaughlin’s lawyers are scheduled to meet with Parson on Tuesday.
Along with such disturbing and upsetting details that the governor's office will consider, missing from the report is any information as to what role such abuse and mental illness may have played in McLaughlin identifying as transgender.
Being transgender was once itself considered a mental illness. Even while that is no longer the case, it is still acknowledged that those in the transgender community have a higher percentage of mental illness.
In addition to providing very little details about McLaughlin being a biological male and using she/her pronouns, it's telling how McLaughlin is referred to as a female in other ways. As one can see, Ballentine and Hanna go through great lengths to try to hit readers over the head with these details:
Missouri has only executed one woman before, state Corrections Department spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said in an email.
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% of Missouri’s prison population is female, and all capital punishment inmates are imprisoned at Potosi Correctional Center.
The authors even have help from the state Corrections Department spokeswoman in distorting the nature of who has been convicted of the crime and who it is that could be executed in January, depending on what the governor decides.
"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," Karen Pojmann is quoted as saying.
Not only is it "extremely unusual for a woman to commit a capital offense," in this case rape and murder, which Pojmann says is "even more unusual," but those crimes were not committed by a woman, rather a biological male.
Believe it or not, other particularly liberal outlets have had even more glaring bias. As Ryan Krull for the River City Journalism Fund wrote in his headline, "Amber McLaughlin could be the first woman executed by Missouri since 1976." Not surprisingly, the piece is published by KCUR 89.3, NPR in Kansas City.
While Krull points out early on that McLaughlin was born Scott McLaughlin, the condemned is referred to as a woman throughout, and she/her pronouns are also used. Further, McLaughlin is even referred to in a sympathetic light, and there's also a backstory on transgender prisoners:
When McLaughlin arrived in Potosi Correctional Center, Jessica Hicklin had already been there for over a decade. At first, Hicklin says she only knew McLaughlin from a distance as someone “very full of anxiety, scattered.”
Then, in 2018, Hicklin won a landmark transgender-rights case against the Missouri Department of Corrections, allowing her and other transgender inmates access to hormone therapy.
“As a result of that [case], I became a sort of mom to a lot of girls who were coming out and trying to figure out how to have coming-out conversations and how to get access to hormone therapy,” says Hicklin, who was released from prison earlier this year after serving 26 years.
One day another inmate introduced Hicklin to Amber McLaughlin.
Hicklin says she remembers thinking to herself, “Now, this makes sense. I’ve known you for a long time, you didn’t necessarily seem very comfortable in your skin, and now you’re smiling.”
“I didn’t really come to know Amber until, well, Amber became Amber,” Hicklin says.
In a brief phone interview, McLaughlin says that when she was around 12 years old she started wearing women’s clothing, though she had to do so away from her parents and guardians.
“I knew then this is what I wanted to be,” she says. “But I had to always do it secretly.”
Over the phone, McLaughlin conducts her side of the conversation in short, soft-spoken replies.
About the death penalty, she says, “It’s cruel and unusual punishment. Nobody deserves to be executed like this.”
About the murder of Beverly Guenther, she says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
She adds, “I think if I’d been my true self, I probably would not have been there.”
When asked what it’s like to know the date she is scheduled to die, McLaughlin says, “It’s stressful, it’s ...” She trails off into a long silence.
Our friends at Twitchy highlighted perhaps the best take on the story, by Sophie Walker, who describes herself as a "feminist writer."
“It is extremely unusual for a woman to commit a capital offense, such as a brutal murder, and even more unusual for a woman to.. rape and murder a woman,” Pojmann said.— Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) December 17, 2022
The death penalty is grotesque. So is recording male crime as female crime. https://t.co/tM0DfnCmOO