GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Josh Vallum was sentenced to 49 years in prison Monday for a federal hate crime in the killing of Mercedes Williamson.
Vallum's case is the first federal hate crime tried in the country involving a transgender victim. He admitted to killing the 17-year-old in 2015, the same day her body was found in a wooded area of the Rocky Creek community.
Vallum has already been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to state charges.
According to prosecutors, Vallum admitted having a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson and that he knew Williamson was transgender. But he kept all of it a secret from his family, friends, and other members of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang to which he belonged. After Vallum ended his romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson, he had no contact with her until May 2015.
Vallum admitted, as part of his guilty plea, that on May 28, 2015, he decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered Williamson was transgender. Vallum believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members found out that he had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman.
On May 29, 2015, Vallum found Williamson at her home in Alabama, lured her into his car, and drove her to his father's home in Lucedale, Mississippi. Vallum admitted that he then used a stun gun to shock Williamson in the chest, repeatedly stabbed her, and hit her with a hammer until she died.
Prosecutors said Vallum then tried to get rid of the murder weapons and other evidence linking him to the crime. He also falsely claimed to investigators that he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering she was transgender. As part of his guilty plea, Vallum acknowledged 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 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."
"Crimes motivated by hate have devastating effects on the victims, their families and community, but also leave a blemish on our society as a whole," said Special Agent in Charge Freeze. "The FBI's mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States, and we will continue to pursue that mission in Mississippi. The outcome of this case would not have been possible without the partnership between local, state and federal law enforcement."
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevent Action of 2009 (18 U.S.C. § 249) was passed by Congress in 2009, and enacted in 2010.