A gang member was sentenced to 49 years in prison on Monday for the murder of a transgender teen. It is the first ever transgender hate crime prosecution in the United States, according to Reuters.
Joshua Vallum pleaded guilty last December to the 2015 murder of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson. The two were former lovers. He killed Williamson people he was scared of what would happen if his fellow gang members found out he was was in a romantic relationship with a transgender woman. According to reports, Vallum was a member of the Latin Kings street gang.
Vallum lured Williamson to his father's home in Mississippi before shocking Williamson with a stun gun. He then stabbed her repeatedly with a pocket knife and hit her over the head with a hammer after she tried running away.
In 2009, the U.S. Congress expanded a federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation.
Vallum has already been serving life in prison for the same murder. However, federal prosecutors brought an additional suit for a hate crime because Mississippi doesn’t have a statute protecting people against hate crimes based on their gender identity.
“Every day, I live with the guilt and regret of my actions." Vallum said in court on Monday according to a CBS News report. "If I could bring back Mercedes by giving up my life, I would gladly do so."
Harper Jean Tobin, spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), called the murder part of the "epidemic of violence against transgender people.”
[George County Sheriff’s Office]