Rep. Cori Bush speaks to reporters

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks to reporters on October 22, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Cori Bush, Emanuel Cleaver Implore Missouri Gov. to Prevent Execution of Amber McLaughlin

"The death penalty is cruel, barbaric, and inhumane," Bush wrote on Twitter.

Democratic Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri sent a letter Tuesday urging their home state's Republican governor to prevent the execution of 49-year-old Amber McLaughlin and commute her sentence, pointing to the "horrific abuse and neglect" she has experienced over the course of her life.

McLaughlin was convicted in 2006 of raping and killing an ex-girlfriend, Beverly Guenther. After the jury failed to reach a decision on whether McLaughlin should face death or life in prison without parole, the trial judge exploited a legal loophole and unilaterally imposed a death sentence—a move that has drawn criticism from former Missouri judges.

If the January 3, 2023 execution goes ahead as planned, McLaughlin would be the first openly trans woman to be executed in the United States.

In their letter, Bush and Cleaver noted that McLaughlin "faced a traumatic childhood and mental health issues throughout her life."

"Court records indicate her adoptive father would frequently strike her with paddles and a nightstick, and even tase her. Alongside this horrendous abuse, she was also silently struggling with her identity, grappling with what we now understand is gender dysphoria," the lawmakers wrote. "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."

"Yet at the sentencing phase of Ms. McLaughlin's trial, the jury never heard crucial mental health evidence because her lawyers failed to present it. A psychiatrist was set to testify and provide expert insight into Ms. McLaughlin’s mental health at the time of the offense before her lawyers decided not to call him as a witness," Bush and Cleaver continued. "The lawyers had previously told the jury that this expert testimony would be a critical component in their decision, but the testimony was withheld and the jury deliberated without highly relevant information."

Bush made clear on social media that her effort to prevent McLaughlin's execution stems from her principled opposition to the death penalty, which she described as "cruel, barbaric, and inhumane."

Earlier this month, McLaughlin's lawyers filed a clemency petition urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to intervene and stop the planned execution, laying out in detail the abuse she faced as a child.

"McLaughlin developed in a womb poisoned by alcohol and she has borne the lifetime effects of fetal alcohol exposure," the petition reads. "This prenatal assault signaled the start of a path of trauma and neglect that would become the rule for McLaughlin’s life. McLaughlin faced an environment with parents ill-equipped to act as caregivers. Trauma, neglect, and abuse at the hands of her parents occurred from birth—until she was abandoned by her mother and placed into the foster care system. At one placement, McLaughlin had feces thrust into her face. The foster care placement was so bad, McLaughlin wanted to return to an abusive mother who neglected her."

The petition argues McLaughlin's execution should be called off for a number of "compelling reasons," including the fact that "executive clemency will not disturb a jury verdict imposing the death penalty because the jury did not vote to impose the death penalty."

"Second, McLaughlin consistently and genuinely expressed remorse for the death of Ms. Beverly Guenther. She remains tormented by memories of her death," the petition states. "Third, McLaughlin endured extensive childhood trauma at the hands of her biological, foster, and adoptive parents, abuse resulting in brain damage even before McLaughlin was born. Those with a moral duty to protect her wantonly inflicted this childhood abuse."

A spokesperson for Parson told NBC News earlier this month that the governor is reviewing the clemency request.

The United States, which recently voted against a United Nations resolution condemning the death penalty, had the most botched executions in its history in 2022, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Seven of the 20 execution attempts were visibly problematic—an astonishing 35%—as a result of executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves," the organization noted in its year-end report. "On July 28, 2022, executioners in Alabama took three hours to set an IV line before putting Joe James Jr. to death, the longest botched lethal injection execution in U.S. history."

Bush has urged President Joe Biden to grant clemency to all federal death row inmates as a step toward ending capital punishment nationwide. Biden, who says he is personally opposed to the death penalty, has yet to heed Bush's call.

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