MISSISSIPPI (EON) – A man from Mississippi has been convicted by a federal judge of hate crime related to the murder of a transgender person. The unprecedented conviction of Joshua Vallum to 49 years in prison was determined by Judge Louis Guirola, who rejected the argument that the crime was a reflection of complications of a supposedly neglected childhood of Vallum.
The man acknowledged blame for the death of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson in 2015. The case was largely accompanied by American LGBT advocacy groups.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” Sessions said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”
Vallum had dated 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson before he shot her with a stun gun, stabbed her repeatedly and beat her to death with a hammer in 2015
According to prosecutors, Vallum killed Williamson to prevent his friends from finding out they were having sex. The group of which he is a part, Latin Kings, declares homosexual death penalty.
Vallum lured Williamson into a car in Alabama and drove her 50 miles to his family home near Lucedale, Miss., prosecutors said. They added he shocked her with a stun gun and stabbed her with a pocketknife. When Williamson tried to run, they said, Vallum chased her and bashed her head with a hammer.
Public defenders submitted a sealed brief Monday to Guirola outlining Vallum’s troubles.
“Mr. Vallum lived through a childhood that was characterized by abandonment and neglect,” said public defender Ellen Allred. “It’s difficult to image how a mother could lock a 2- or 3-year-old child in a room for house on end while adults did drugs.”
Allred said Vallum first tried to kill himself when he was 7 or 8.
“We can’t go back and change Mr. Vallum’s childhood, just like Mr. Vallum can’t go back and undo what he did to Mercedes,” Allred said.
Vallum initially told sheriff’s deputies and later told The Sun Herald newspaper that he found out that Williamson had a penis on May 30, 2015 — moments before he killed her. He said he “blacked out” and doesn’t remember the crime, a variation of what’s known as a “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense.
He declined to speak with The Associated Press in a March letter, citing advice from his lawyers, and didn’t address the issue Monday. However, Vallum has never contested testimony and evidence that he long knew Williamson was transgender.
A witness in state court had testified previously that Vallum and Williamson had sex multiple times while the witness was a roommate with Williamson. Williamson had transitioned from male to female before dropping out of high school in Alabama, leaving her parents’ home and drifting from place to place.
The case has been closely watched by LGBT groups nationwide, who cite studies showing transgender people are particularly likely to be victims of violent crimes. A 2009 federal hate crimes law included protections for gay and transgender people, but of the 47 people prosecuted during the period reviewed by The Associated Press, none were for offenses against transgender people.