GULFPORT, Miss. (CN) – A Mississippi man was sentenced to 49 years in prison on Monday for assaulting and murdering a transgender woman, in the nation’s first case prosecuted under federal hate crimes law because of gender identity.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. sentenced Joshua Vallum, 29, for killing 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson with a hammer after luring her to Lucedale, Miss., shocking her with a stun gun, and repeatedly stabbing her.
It is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted based on gender identity.
Vallum had also pleaded guilty earlier to a state murder charge that drew him a separate sentence of life without parole, the Associated Press reported.
Vallum, who pleaded guilty to the federal charge in December, admitted that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson and that he knew Williamson was transgender. He told prosecutors he decided to kill Williamson to keep other members of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang from finding out they were having sex.
Prosecutors said on May 28, 2015, Vallum learned that a friend discovered Williamson was transgender. The next day, Vallum located Williamson in Alabama and drove her about 50 miles to his father’s home in Lucedale, Miss.
He admitted he used a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson in the chest, stabbed her repeatedly and struck her with a hammer until she died.
In pleading guilty, Vallum acknowledged that he had lied about the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s death, and 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,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff 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.”