A Mississippi Latin Kings member has been sentenced to 49 years in prison for the death of his transgender girlfriend after a friend found out her gender identity.
Joshua Vallum was previously pleaded guilty to the death of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson in 2015, when he was soliciting sex from her before shocking her with a stun gun, stabbing her and beating her with a hammer.
He had been sentenced last year to life in prison, but pleaded guilty to federal charges under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in December and was sentenced to nearly five decades on the charges Monday.
The case is the first prosecuted under the law for the killing of someone based on gender identity, according to a Department of Justice release Monday.
Prosecutors said that Vallum, 29, killed Williamson. who he had been in a romantic relationship with, after a friend found out that she had been born male. The Latin Kings have been known to punish homosexuality with death.
The convicted killer first told authorities that he killed the teen after discovering she was transgender, though he admitted in his guilty plea that he knew during their relationship.
Vallum allegedly told Williamson that they were going somewhere to have sex the night of the murder, and took her across state lines from Alabama to Missisippi, where he tried to dispose of his weapons at his father’s property.
“The taking of a human life because a person has a particular gender identity is particularly heinous and cannot be tolerated in an enlightened society,” Judge Louis Guirola Jr. said in his Gulfport, Miss. court.
“If I could bring back Mercedes by giving up my life, I would gladly do so,” Vallum said Monday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposed the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a senator, lauded the Vallum sentencing.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” he said.
“The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”
Vallum could have been sentenced to another life sentence for his federal crimes, though Guirola gave him 49 years due to his history of being abused as a child.
With News Wire Services