Mississippi man sentenced in federal court Monday to 49 years in prison for murdering a transgender woman, according to officials.
Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale, Mississippi, plead guilty on Dec. 21 to murdering Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender woman.
This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity, according to authorities.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”
During his plea hearing, Vallum admitted that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson and that he knew Williamson was transgender.
During his romantic relationship with Williamson, officials said Vallum kept the sexual nature of the relationship, as well as Williamson’s transgender status, secret from his family, friends, and other members of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang to which he belonged.
After Vallum terminated his romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson, he had no contact with her until May 2015, officials said.
Vallum admitted, as part of his guilty plea, that on May 28, 2015, he decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered Williamson was transgender.
Vallum believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members found out that he had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman, according to officials.
On May 29, 2015, Vallum located Williamson at her residence in Alabama and used false pretenses to lure Williamson into his car so he could drive her to Mississippi.
Vallum drove Williamson to his father’s residence in Lucedale, Mississippi. Vallum admitted that he then used a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson in the chest, repeatedly stabbed Williamson, and struck Williamson with a hammer until she died.
After the murder, Vallum attempted to dispose of the murder weapons and other evidence linking him to the crime.
Vallum also falsely claimed to law enforcement that he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering Williamson was transgender.
In pleading guilty, Vallum acknowledged that he had lied about the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s death and that he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.