WASHINGTON — A Mississippi man pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering a teen because she was transgender.
Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale was charged with a hate crime for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson, 17, of Alabama.
Vallum already pleaded guilty to Williamson’s murder, for which he was convicted and received life in prison.
This new guilty plea was for the hate crime aspect of the killing, and he again faces life in prison as well as a $250,000 fine.
According to the Department of Justice, Vallum knew Williamson was a transgender woman when he started having a sexual relationship with her in 2014. He kept this a secret from his family, friends and fellow members of the Latin Kings.
A few months later, Vallum stopped his relationship with Williamson and never saw her until May 2015, when he killed her.
As part of his guilty plea, Vallum admitted he decided to kill her after a friend learned she was transgender. He said he worried he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members found out about their relationship.
Vallum went to Williamson’s home in Alabama and lured her into his car to drive her to his father’s house in Lucedale, where he shocked her with a stun gun then stabbed her multiple times, according to the DOJ. She escaped, but he chased her, stabbed her again and hit her in the head with a hammer several times until she died.
Vallum told the court he wouldn’t have killed her if she wasn’t transgender.
According to the DOJ, this is the first case prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that involves a victim who was targeted because of gender identity.