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Press Release

Mississippi Man Sentenced To 49 Years in Prison for Bias-Motivated Murder of Transgender Woman in Lucedale, Mississippi

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale, Mississippi, was sentenced today in the Southern District of Mississippi to 49 years in prison for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender woman, announced 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 FBI’s Jackson Division.

Vallum pleaded guilty on Dec. 21, 2016, to a one-count Information that charged him with a violation of the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal hate crime statute.  This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity.

During his plea hearing, Vallum admitted that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson and that he knew Williamson was transgender.  During his romantic relationship with Williamson, Vallum kept the sexual nature of the relationship, as well as Williamson’s transgender status, secret from his family, friends, and other members of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang to which he belonged.  After Vallum terminated his romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson, he had no contact with her until May 2015.  

Vallum admitted, as part of his guilty plea, that on May 28, 2015, he decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered Williamson was transgender. Vallum believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members found out that he had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman.  On May 29, 2015, Vallum located Williamson at her residence in Alabama and used false pretenses to lure Williamson into his car so he could drive her to Mississippi.  Vallum drove Williamson to his father’s residence in Lucedale, Mississippi.  Vallum admitted that he then used a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson in the chest, repeatedly stabbed Williamson, and struck Williamson with a hammer until she died. 

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

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

“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Freeze.  “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.”

This case was the result of a cooperative effort among the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, and the Office of the District Attorney for Mississippi’s 19th Judicial District.   The case was investigated by the FBI Jackson Division’s Pascagoula Safe Streets Task Force and the George County, Mississippi Sheriff’s Office.  It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Julia Gegenheimer and Special Litigation Counsel Sheldon Beer of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and Jay Golden of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Updated May 15, 2017

Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 17-531