Yesterday Judge Louis Guirola Jr. of the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi sentenced Joshua Vallum to 49 years in prison for the hate crime murder of Mercedes Williamson, a transgender Alabama teenager.
This was the first ever application of federal hate crime laws in regards to the murder of a transgender person.
Guirola could have sentenced Vallum to life in prison, but heeded a lesser sentence suggested in a plea agreement between defense attorneys and prosecutors, citing Vallum's neglected childhood and other issues. Both the judge and defense lawyers said Vallum's history of abuse as a child had to be considered.
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.
Vallum previously pleaded guilty to a murder in Mississippi state court which earned him a sentence of life without parole.
Vallum was a member of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation crime gang who said he feared what his fellow gang members would do when they found out he was in a relationship with a trans girl.
After luring the 17-year-old into his car under false pretenses, he assaulted her and stabbed her with a pocket knife, prosecutors said. As she tried to flee he stabbed her repeatedly and used a hammer to deliver deadly blows, the Justice Department said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions commented on the case:
Today's sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals. The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.
Considering that Sessions voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act because, he said, he believed that hate crimes were "thought crimes," few people are putting much stock in Sessions' statement.
Demoya Gordon, attorney for the Transgender Rights Project of Lambda Legal, called the prosecution "significant" but noted it began under President Barack Obama's administration and added "the cake was already baked" on Vallum's sentencing when Donald Trump became president.