US Attorney General Jeff Sessions vows to ‘vindicate rights’ of hate crime victims
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released a statement saying his department will “vindicate” the rights of victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes.
His statement comes in connection with the first ever federal conviction for the perpetrator of an anti-trans killing.
Earlier on Monday, a federal judge had sentenced 29-year-old Joshua Vallum to 49 years in federal prison for murdering Mercedes Williamson back in 2015.
His sentence was added on top of life without parole.
Sessions, in a statement, said the Justice Department would “vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”
But the statement from Sessions has already been rejected by LGBT groups who say that it does not gel with the Trump administration’s lack of effort to protect trans rights.
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 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.
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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.
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.