A public defender has been appointed to represent Latin Kings street gang member Josh Vallum in a federal investigation into whether he committed a hate crime when he stabbed and beat to death a transgender teen who had once considered him a boyfriend.
“We have been appointed to represent him as a target of a federal investigation,” said Ellen Allred, an assistant federal public defender in U.S. District Court. “It is not uncommon for us to be appointed as a federal public defender for him to make sure everything proceeds as it should.”
Allred declined to comment further on the investigation. If Vallum is prosecuted on a federal hate crime charge for targeting a transgender victim, it will be the first such prosecution in U.S. history.
Vallum, 29, pleaded guilty in July to a state charge of murder by deliberate design in the May 30, 2015, killing of South Alabama teen Mercedes Williamson, 17. As part of his plea, he admitted planning the murder and was sentenced to life with parole.
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The federal probe has been ongoing. Vallum said he has already signed a statement for investigators.
Vallum is statewide secretary of the Latin Kings. He said he considers its members his closest friends and family, and refers to them as “my everything.” The gang’s bylaws strictly prohibit homosexual activity.
Prosecutors believe Vallum killed Williamson to cover up his sexual relationship with her. Williamson’s friends said she had said openly she and Vallum would be killed if the gang found out about their homosexual activity.
Vallum said in a jailhouse interview in July he had dated Williamson but the two had never had sexual intercourse. He said he thought she was a virgin.