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Mississippi Man Sentenced for Murder of Transgender Woman
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Joshua Brandon Vallum

Summary: A Mississippi man was sentenced to nearly 50 years in prison in the attack motivated by prejudice against a transgender woman.

The Southern District of Mississippi sentenced 29-year-old Joshua Brandon Vallum to 49 years behind bars for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain of the Southern District of Mississippi and Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the Jackson Division announced the sentence. Vallum, of Lucedale, Mississippi attacked Williamson because she was a transgender woman.


Vallum was charged with a one-count federal hate crime charge for a violation of the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Vallum was the first one to be prosecuted under the Act for a crime targeting a victim based on their gender identity. He pleaded guilty just a few days before Christmas in 2016.

During the plea hearing, Vallum admitted to a relationship with Williamson, knowing full well that she was transgender. Their relationship was sexual in nature but kept a secret from his family and friends, members of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang. He eventually ended the romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson and had no contact with her until May 2015 when he learned that a friend had discovered his secret.

When Vallum learned that his secret about Williamson may get out, he decided to kill her on May 28, 2015. He was worried that his life would be in danger if members of Latin Kings learned that he had a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman. The next day, he found her at her residence in Alabama, using false pretenses to get her into his car so he could drive to Mississippi. He drive her to his father’s home in Lucedale.

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Vallum then struck her with a stun gun to the chest to electrically shock her, repeatedly stabbed her, and struck her with a hammer until she was dead. Vallum tried to dispose of any evidence linking him to the crime like the weapons he used. He originally lied to police officers, claiming he freaked out when he was told she was transgender and killed her. As part of the guilty plea, he admitted to having lied about how and why she died, stating he would not have killed her if she was not transgender.

Sessions said, “Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals. The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”

Freeze added, “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. 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.”

Seeing as how Vallum will be released when he is 78 years old, do you think his sentence should have been longer? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about bias motivated crimes, read these articles:




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