GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) – A Mississippi man who previously admitted killing a transgender teen from Alabama because of her sexual identity has pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime.
The U.S. Justice Department says the plea, entered Wednesday by 28-year-old Joshua Brandon Vallum of Lucedale, Mississippi, is the nation’s first involving a victim targeted because of gender identity under a federal hate crime law.
Vallum pleaded guilty to a state murder charge in July in the 2015 beating death of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson of Theodore, Alabama.
Born Michael Wilkins, Williamson dated Vallum. Authorities say Vallum was in a gang that banned homosexuality, and killed Williamson after a friend discovered Williamson wasn’t biologically female.
Vallum already is serving a life sentence in state prison. He faces the same sentence in the federal case.