Man who killed transgender girlfriend with a hammer is first to be sentenced for hate crime
A man who beat his teenage girlfriend to death with a hammer because she was transgender will be the first trans killer to be sentenced on federal hate crimes charges.
Joshua Vallum, 29, pleaded guilty in December to hate crimes charges for murdering 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson in 2015.
He is due to appear before a federal judge in Mississippi today, where US District Judge Louis Guirola Jr could sentence him to as long as life in prison without parole.
Vallum murdered Williamson because he was scared that his fellow Latin Kings gang members would discover their relationship and kill both of them because the gang forbids gay sex, prosecutors said.
They described how he lured his girlfriend into a car in Alabama and drove 50 miles to his family home in Mississippi before shocking her with a stun gun.
He then proceeded to stab her in the body and head with a pocketknife, they added.
When the 17-year-old girl tried to run into the woods, he chased her down and bashed her head with a hammer, they said.
Vallum admitted in court that he targeted Williamson because she was trans.
And prosecutors have told the court that Vallum knew Williamson was trans long before he killed her.
They cited a witness who testified that Vallum and Williamson had sex multiple times while she was roommates with Williamson.
The roommate also testified that Vallum once told both her and Williamson that his gang would kill the couple if Williamson’s transgender status was discovered.
Vallum did not contest evidence in court that he had long known Williamson was trans.
Federal prosecutor Julia Gegenheimer said during a plea hearing in December that Vallum began planning to kill Williamson after a friend called him last May to say he’d discovered she was trans.
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The sentencing marks a landmark moment in the prosecution of transphobic crimes in the US.
2016 overtook 2015 as the deadliest year for trans people in the US on record, with 27 trans people murdered.
10 trans women of colour have been killed in the US already this year.
The Human Rights Campaign has written that it is “clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of colour”.
Despite federal hate crimes law having included protections for gay and trans people since 2009, no prosecutions of trans murders have been filed under this law, according to Associated Press.