Crime

Sentencing delayed in transgender teen’s hate-crime murder

Josh Vallum, a member of the Latin Kings, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime in the stabbing and beating death of Mercedes Williamson, a transgender teen.
Josh Vallum, a member of the Latin Kings, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime in the stabbing and beating death of Mercedes Williamson, a transgender teen. ttisbell@sunherald.com

A judge Thursday reset the sentencing of Josh Vallum, a statewide officer of the Latin Kings street gang who pleaded guilty in December to the first federal hate crime charge against the killer of a transgender person.

Vallum, 29, was set for sentencing Tuesday, but his federal public defender, John Weber, had a conflict.

Judge Louis Guirola Jr. reset the sentencing for May 15.

Vallum, 29, is facing a federal sentence of life for the May 30, 2015, beating and stabbing death of Mercedes Williamson, 17. He admitted in December he killed the girl he once dated because of her gender identity.

Josh Vallum appears in George County Circuit Court with public defender David Futch on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 to plead guilty to a charge of first-degree murder by deliberate design in the beating and stabbing death of Mercedes Williamson, 17, of

Two days before the murder, Vallum started hatching his plan to kill Williamson. He plotted to kill her after he learned one of his “friends” and fellow gang members had found out Williamson was a transgender girl.

Vallum said he felt like his life would be in danger if other Latin Kings found out he had engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with Williamson.

The Latin Kings prohibit homosexual activity in its bylaws. The gang members also are known to punish those who break the rules with death.

The day of the murder, Vallum said he was at a fellow gang member’s house in Theodore, Ala. He said he saw Williamson, picked her up and drove her to his family home in rural George County to commit the murder. Vallum told the Sun Herald he hit Williamson with a stun gun, stabbed her repeatedly and beat her over the head with a claw hammer until she died. He buried her under some debris on the property.

In an exclusive jailhouse interview, Vallum said he didn’t know Williamson was a transgender girl, but friends and family of the teen saw them together and said Vallum knew Williamson’s gender identity. In addition, they said, Williamson had openly discussed her fear of being killed if the Latin Kings found out about her relationship with Vallum.

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.

Vallum already is serving a life sentence on a state charge of murder. Vallum told the Sun Herald he decided to enter a plea on that charge because he didn’t want his fellow Latin Kings to have to testify at his trial.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence countered that claim, saying Vallum decided to change his plea after he learned prosecutors had found hundreds of images of naked men on his cellphone along with videos of “man on man” sex.

Prosecutors believe Vallum killed Williamson to cover up his sexual relationship with Williamson from the gang members.

The FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Pascagoula and the George County Sheriff’s Department investigated the murder.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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