Crime

July 2015: George County investigator says transgender teen beaten to death

Margaret Baker

mbbaker@sunherald.com

Video: Man accused of killing transgender teen waives preliminary hearing

Josh Vallum, who is facing a first degree murder charge in the death of Mercedes Williamson, waived his preliminary hearing on Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Lucedale. Video by Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald
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Josh Vallum, who is facing a first degree murder charge in the death of Mercedes Williamson, waived his preliminary hearing on Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Lucedale. Video by Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald

GEORGE COUNTY -- A transgender teen was beaten to death by a George County man and buried under some debris on the man’s father’s property on Odom Road, a lead investigator on the case told the Sun Herald.

Josh Vallum, 28, is being held on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, a Theodore, Ala., teen whose birth name was Michael Christopher Wilkins.

In July, Vallum met with his public defender, David Futch, then waived his preliminary hearing, and George County Justice Court Judge Norman Cedric Howell bound the case over to a grand jury.

George County sheriff’s Capt. Ben Brown said early on authorities were looking into whether the killing was a hate crime or a gang or drug-related crime. Brown said Vallum and Williamson had known one another for nine to 11 months. But, he added, investigators are still trying to determine if Vallum knew Williamson was a transgender woman. Her friends said Vallum knew she was a transgender woman and she even considered him a boyfriend at one time.

When asked if he knew Williamson was a transgender woman while being escorted out the back of George County Justice Court on Wednesday, Vallum kept his head down and did not respond.

His bond had been set at $1 million on the murder charge, but the Mississippi Department of Corrections revoked his parole on a false reporting of a crime conviction in George County. As a result, he’s serving the remainder of an eight-year sentence in that case.

Vallum’s preliminary hearing was initially set for Tuesday, but that morning officials realized Vallum had been transferred from the George County jail to a state correctional facility in Meridian.

If indicted on first-degree murder charges and later convicted, Vallum faces a lifetime behind bars.

Vallum has been in custody since June 2, a day after he told his father he’d killed someone and disposed of her body.

Vallum is a member of the Latin Kings street gang. After his arrest, he told authorities who the victim was, but Williamson’s identity had to be confirmed through DNA analysis because her body was partially decomposed.

At the time of her death, Williamson was an aspiring cosmetologist who shared a $50-a-week camper with a friend in Theodore, Ala.

The George County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force are heading up the ongoing investigation.

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