Amber McLaughlin’s Jury Deadlocked—So the Judge Decided She Should Be Executed
The first execution of 2023 in the United States may also end up being the first execution of a trans inmate, but the media emphasis on Amber McLaughlin’s identity obscures a more serious issue of how the state of Missouri sometimes allows judges to overrule juries in sentencing.
Today, Missouri plans to execute McLaughlin, 49, for killing her ex-girlfriend, Beverly Guenther, in St. Louis County in 2003. She was convicted under her birth name (Scott) and started her transition in prison three years ago, and as such she is believed to be the first transgender prisoner to face execution (according to the Death Penalty Information Center, DPIC). As such, McLaughlin’s LGBT identity and the prison image of her in pigtails is getting a lot of attention.
But this obsession with identity shouldn’t come at the expense of a serious flaw in McLaughlin’s sentencing. When McLaughlin was convicted and sentenced in 2006, the jury deadlocked on whether to sentence her to death. They rejected three out of four aggravating circumstances that would allow for a capital sentence, but couldn’t decide on the fourth. In states that still have the death penalty and in federal sentencing trials, a hung jury means that the defendant is sentenced to life in prison. Four states (California, Nevada, Arizona, and Kentucky) call for a retrial of the penalty phase under a new jury.
Missouri and Indiana are the only two states that give the judge hearing the trial the authority to make the decision. And so, ultimately, McLaughlin was not sentenced to death by a jury, but by a single
Article from Reason.com