Crime

Latin Kings’ Vallum has attorney in federal hate crime probe

She fell in love with a man who would later kill her

Transgender teenager Mercedes Williamson's friends and family recall her relationship with Joshua Vallum. Vallum would go on to kill Williamson.
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Transgender teenager Mercedes Williamson's friends and family recall her relationship with Joshua Vallum. Vallum would go on to kill Williamson.

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.

Josh Vallum admits to killing his transgender girlfriend, 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson. But he and Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence tell different stories about the motive behind the killing.

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.

Mercedes Williamson's mother and closest friend say the 17-year-old had a big heart and always knew that she wanted to be a woman. Williamson was killed by her boyfriend, Josh Vallum, he admitted in court.

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.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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