• Miss. gang member pleads guilty to hate crime in transgender woman's murder


    A Mississippi pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson, because she was transgender. 

    29-year-old Joshua Vallum of Lucedale, Mississippi was charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 

    Williamson, who was born Michael Milkins, was only 17 years old and was living in Alabama when she was killed. 

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    “The defendant committed a horrific and reprehensible act of violence against the victim because of her gender identity,” said U.S. Attorney Davis.  

    Officials said that in the summer of 2014, Vallum, a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation, began a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson. They said Vallum knew Williamson was a biological male who identified as a female. 

    He kept her biological identity and gender secret from friends, family, and other gang members. 

    Vallum broke off his relationship with Williamson in September of 2014, but decided to kill her in May of 2015 after hearing a friend discovered she was transgender. 

    Officials said Vallum believed he would be in danger of other gang members if they found out he had a sexual relationship with a transgender woman, as the Latin Kings Manifesto Constitution bans involvement in homosexual activities. 

    The FBI said that on May 29 of 2015, Vallum went to Alabama with a plan to take Williamson to Mississippi and kill her there. After finding her at her home, they said he tricked her into his car, drover to his father's house in Lucedale, MS, parked the vehicle behind the house, and assaulted her. 

    He used a stun gun to shock Williamson in the chest and then repeatedly stabbed her with a pocket knife. 

    Officials said Williamson tried to run, but Vallum chased her and stabbed her again multiple times. They said he told them he stabbed her in the head and thought he, "hit brain." He allegedly told them Williamson got back up again briefly, before collapsing. 

    As Vallum went back to his car, Williamson managed to get to her feet again and tried running into the woods. They said Vallum then got a hammer from the trunk of his car, chased her, and hit her in the back of the head. He confessed to hitting her several more times in the head until she died. 

    The FBI said Vallum tried disposing of the murder weapons and other evidence and falsely claimed he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering she was transgender.  

    A judge accepted his guilty plea. Vallum faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

    He previously pleaded guilty to murdering Williamson in George County, MS and was sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted on murder charges.

    The federal government was then able to prosecute, because Mississippi does not have a hate crimes statute that protects people from bias crimes based on gender identity. 

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