US man jailed 49 years for killing transgender ex-girlfriend

Joshua Vallum is the first person prosecuted under a federal hate crime statute in relation to gender identity

US man jailed 49 years for killing transgender ex-girlfriend

n this 2016 file photo, Joshua Vallum is photographed in the George County Regional Correctional Facility in Lucedale, Mississippi | Image: Tim Isbell/AP/Press Association Images

A US man has been jailed for 49 years for murdering his transgender ex-girlfriend.

29-year-old Joshua Brandon Vallum of Lucedale, Mississippi, was sentenced for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender woman.

Vallum pleaded guilty in December 2016 to a violation of the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act - a federal hate crime statute.

This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity.

During his plea hearing, Vallum admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson and that he knew she was transgender.

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. 

He admitted he decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered she was transgender.

False claims

The US Department of Justice says Vallum believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members found out that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a transgender woman.

Documents say Vallum lured Williamson under false pretences into his car so he could drive her to his father’s house.

Vallum admitted he then used a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson, before repeatedly stabbing her and striking her with a hammer.

He then 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 she was transgender.

In pleading guilty, Vallum acknowledged that he had lied about the circumstances surrounding her death, and that he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.      

“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” said US 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.”