DA thinks he knows why gang member pleaded guilty to teen’s murder

A cellphone used by Josh Vallum, who stabbed and beat transgender teen Mercedes Williamson to death in George County in May 2015, contained a trove of gay pornography, prosecutors say.

The cache, which turned up in an FBI data dump, contained images and video of “man on man” sex, and nearly 100 images of naked men showing their genitals, said District Attorney Tony Lawrence, who prosecutes cases in George, Greene and Jackson counties.

Vallum, 29, is serving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole for murder by deliberate design. In addition, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been investigating the case to determine if it was a hate crime against a transgender victim.

If Vallum is prosecuted for a hate crime under the federal Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Act of 2009, it will be the first prosecution in the nation of hate crime against a transgender victim.

Vallum has maintained he hadn’t known his former girlfriend was transgender, and that he “lashed out in anger” and killed her in a blind rage when he found out. He said he decided to plead guilty to murder by deliberate design — acknowledging he planned the killing — because he wanted to keep his friends and fellow Latin Kings gang members out of it. Some of Vallum’s fellow gang members and his brother Jacob had been subpoenaed, and some had already testified at a pretrial hearing, when, just days before the case was to go to trial, Vallum pleaded guilty.

“I knew everything that was going to be said and didn’t want all that stuff said,” he told the Sun Herald. “I tried to keep as many people out of it as I could. I didn’t want what happened anyway as far as all this negative light shown on the nation, the Latin Kings, but it happened anyway.”

But the porn discovery, Lawrence said, suggests Vallum might have had other reasons for changing his mind about a trial.

“I think when that information was ultimately discovered, when that information was found ... that information was outcome determinative and that’s the information Josh Vallum doesn’t want the world to know.”

Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in the Latin Kings’ bylaws, and, as Lawrence pointed out in court testimony, the gang often issued orders to KOS — kill on sight — for members who had violated their rules.

Lawrence also suggested the discovery called into question Vallum’s insistence he snapped when he discovered Williamson had male genitals.

“How can you claim you are shocked when you feel a penis when on your cellphone are hundreds, now it may not have been hundreds but it was close to that, of pictures of sexual incidents with other men, not him engaged in it, but pornography of men on men, pictures of penises and other things of that nature?” Lawrence said.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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