A Mississippi man pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal hate crime for killing an Alabama transgender teenager whom he had dated, the nation’s first involving a victim targeted solely based on their gender identity, WKRG reports.
Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29 pleaded guilty to a state murder charge in July 2015; he admitted to beating 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson to death after discovering her biological gender. In court, Vallum admitted he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.
Authorities say Vallum was in a gang called the Latin Kings, which banned homosexuality. When his friend discovered Williamson’s biological gender, he “believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members discovered that he had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman.”
Several months after ending his sexual and romantic relationship with Willaimson, Vallum reportedly picked her up under false pretenses and killed her, using a stun gun, pocket knife and hammer.
“Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs: that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle, and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.”
Valum is currently serving a life sentence in state prison.