The bishops of the Missouri Catholic Conference are asking Gov. Mike Parson to reduce the death sentence of Amber (Scott) McLaughlin to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McLaughlin is scheduled to be executed by the state of Missouri on Jan. 3 for the 2003 killing of Beverly Guenther in St. Louis County.
The letter to Gov. Parson from the bishops, other religious leaders and civic organizations notes the “absence of critical mitigating factors during the sentencing phase of the case,” including McLaughlin’s history of physical, mental and emotional abuse as a child and the failure to present evidence of McLaughlin’s “numerous mental disorders and medications at the time of the offense.”
“In addition to Major Depressive Disorder with Psychotic features, McLaughlin’s IQ (tested in March 2009) measures a Full-Scale score of 79, nearly two standard deviations below average, which is the measure by which a person is declared mentally disabled,” the letter said. “We urge you to consider McLaughlin’s severe mental issues when deciding whether to grant clemency.”
McLaughlin’s execution is set for just five weeks after the state killed Kevin Johnson by lethal injection. Leonard Taylor is scheduled to be executed Feb. 7. All three were sentenced in St. Louis County.
In 2018, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith added a new directive to the Catechism of the Catholic Church stating that capital punishment is inadmissible in all cases because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.
“Looking beyond this particular case, as religious and civic leaders we are also concerned that the use of the death penalty promotes revenge as a principle of criminal justice,” the bishops’ letter said. “As imperfect human beings, the Grace of God is not something we receive because we deserve it; rather, it is something He gives to us freely as an act of mercy.”
McLaughlin’s trial ended with a deadlocked jury, and the trial judge subsequently imposed the death sentence. Missouri is one of just two states to allow judges to sentence a defendent to death without a jury recommendation, a clemency application submitted by McLaughlin’s lawyers notes.
“The State failed to maintain their burden to convince the citizens of Missouri to impose death. The death sentence now being considered does not come from the conscience of the community — but from a single judge,” the clemency application said.
Retired Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff, along with six other retired Missouri judges, also wrote a letter to Gov. Parson expressing concern about “this flawed death sentence.”
“The risk of arbitrary and irreversible injustices in the administration of those sentences is high, given the inherently problematic nature of a death sentence being imposed by a single person – and particularly after a jury did not unanimously do so,” the letter said. “…No individual, not even a judge, should have the ability to take a human life on behalf of the State.”
Church teaching on the death penalty (updated 2018)
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serioius crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267
What can I do to help end the death penalty in Missouri?
1. Pray. Both personal and communal liturgical prayer are sources of spiritual strength for living out the pro-life commitment to which the Gospel calls us. Our prayer is often a source of strength for others as well, particularly as we pray for those to be executed, their families, the victims and the victims’ families.
2. Sign clemency petitions for those facing imminent execution. Clemency petitions can be found on the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty website: madpmo.org/clemencycampaigns
3. Contact your state senator and representative and ask them to abolish the death penalty in Missouri. Find information about senators and representatives here: house.mo.gov/legislatorlookup.aspx
4. Support Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic effort to end the death penalty: madpmo.org and catholicsmobilizing.org.
5. Join the archdiocesan Office of Peace & Justice to participate in a prayer vigil outside the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre during an execution. For more information, contact Marie Kenyon at (314) 792-7062 or [email protected].