Mississippi hate crime: man pleads guilty to murdering transgender woman

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Crime Scene Investigation

LUCEDALE, Miss. (WGNO) – A 29-year-old Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime for assaulting and murdering a transgender woman solely because she was transgender.

“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.  “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.”

Joshua Brandon Vallum, of Lucedale, Mississippi, killed Mercedes Williamson after entering into a sexual relationship with her.

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, Williamson’s biological gender was kept a secret from everyone except Vallum. Trouble arose when one of Vallum’s friends found out that Williamson was transgender.

That’s when Vallum planned to kill Williamson and did so by repeatedly stabbing her and by hitting her in the head with a hammer several times as well.

After the murder, Vallum attempted to dispose of the murder weapons and other evidence linking him to the crime.  He also falsely claimed to law enforcement that he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering Williamson was transgender.  In pleading guilty today, Vallum acknowledged that he had previously lied about the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s death and that he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.

Vallum acknowledged in court he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.

Vallum is already serving life in a Mississippi prison for Williamson’s murder, but the U.S. Justice Department was able to bring federal hate crime charges against Vallum because Mississippi does not have a hate crime statute.