By Laurence Komp
Holiday seasons are about life, joy and spiritual renewal. This holiday season is especially difficult because the State of Missouri chose to execute our client, Amber McLaughlin, during this season of renewal.
Amber confronted her execution with great courage, and we take some solace in knowing Amber became her true self in what became her last years. Many people wrote to oppose Amber’s execution.
But in the end, her execution rested on the decision of one trial judge who sentenced Amber to death when the jury did not vote to impose the death penalty.
It is difficult to comprehend how our fellow citizens were regulated to bystanders by a legal loophole.
The conscience of the community should be an absolute requirement before an execution should proceed—it is absent here.
It is troubling that a State that by its own acknowledgement often fails to protect abused and neglected children, like Amber, also fails to acknowledge that the profound childhood abuse and neglect suffered by Amber forever altered her ability to interact in this world and impacted her behavior at the time of Ms. Beverly Guenther’s murder.
There were people in Amber’s life who tried to protect her, including teachers whose calls to children’s services were met with ambivalence.
At a time when children experience the enchantment of the holiday season, it is difficult not to think of Amber as she was as a child, beaten, tased, dirty and hungry and wonder how we, as a society, could not protect her.
Amber immediately regretted her actions in killing Ms. Guenther and was tormented by the memory of what she had done. Amber expressed her sincere remorse within hours of Ms. Guenther’s death.
Recently, Amber confronted her impending execution by seeking spiritual renewal with her spiritual advisor and a loving community of people who accepted her for who she was. Her effort at renewal stands in stark contrast to the disenchanting nature of her death.
Laurence Komp is the Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender, Western District of Missouri