Crime

Transgender teen, Latin Kings officer feared reprisal for sexual relationship

Details of sexual conduct, gang activity come out in pre-trial hearing for Josh Vallum

Testimony from police, friends and brother describe Josh Vallum, who is accused of killing Mercedes Williamson, a transgender woman that Vallum had been dating.
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Testimony from police, friends and brother describe Josh Vallum, who is accused of killing Mercedes Williamson, a transgender woman that Vallum had been dating.

Transgender teen Mercedes Williamson talked openly about how she and Josh Vallum would face death if his fellow Latin Kings gang members found out about their intimate relationship, a roommate of the pair said in a pretrial hearing in Circuit Court on Thursday.

Once, the witness said, the three were sitting on their front porch when Williamson said she and the man she loved would die if the other gang members knew about them.

“We all looked at each other, like ‘Wow,’” the roommate said. Vallum is set to go to trial July 18 on a charge of first-degree murder in the beating death of Williamson, 17, of Theodore, Ala.

The witness said Vallum usually spent several nights a week with Williamson and the two called each other Baby and often exchanged “I love you(s).”

The pair she knew as a couple had an active sex life, which Williamson said she enjoyed, the witness said.

The witness said Williamson walked around their home in her underwear and Vallum in his pajama pants when he stayed over, adding Williamson sat on his lap, the two kissed and they seemed like any other couple. Vallum knew Williamson was transgender, the witness said.

This and other witnesses said Williamson also knew Vallum was a high-ranking Latin Kings member whose name was King Chaos. His position as secretary was a statewide role.

A witness who must stay anonymous testified during a hearing for the murder trial of Josh Vallum, who is charged in the killing of a transgender teen.

Williamson felt she was safe

During their time living together, the roommate said, she remembered Williamson heading to Biloxi with Vallum to attend a Latin Kings beach party. Williamson, the witness said, thought she was safe and even said “she didn’t have anything to worry about.”

But between May 30 and June 2, 2015, Vallum allegedly used a hammer to beat Williamson to death. On Thursday, he was served with a new indictment on a charge of first-degree murder by deliberate design, meaning he allegedly meant to kill Williamson when he beat her.

Vallum pleaded not guilty to the new charge.

Other evidence came out Thursday during Valium’s pretrial hearing.

Five witnesses spoke to shed light on the relationship Vallum and Williamson had for some time.

Teen knew too much

Danielle Marie Merrill said she had been a friend of Vallum’s brother, Jacob Vallum, and knew Josh Vallum as a result. She said Josh Vallum came to her home June 1, 2015, and she asked him what had been going on. He told her he didn’t have “enough of a buzz to talk about it” at first. She said he went into her house, grabbed a beer, walked back out and started talking.

She said Vallum “told me he had a body buried on his father’s property.”

She was stunned.

She didn’t know if she’d heard him correctly. He said the same thing again, she said.

“He ... said it was either him or the other dude,” she said, adding Vallum told her the person he’d killed “had too much information on him and he wasn’t going down.”

Merrill said she told Vallum to leave her home.

She said he later sent her messages on Facebook falsely claiming she owed him money. She said she called authorities, which she told Vallum when he got in touch again, and the communication stopped.

Blood on his shoulders

Jacob Vallum also testified Thursday. He said he was still living with his father in the Rocky Creek community when his brother walked into his room May 30, 2015, with blood on his shoulders.

“I asked him, ‘What the heck happened?’” Jacob Vallum said. He said his brother told him, “‘Well, it was my life or his.’”

Jacob Vallum said he tried over the years to persuade his brother to end his gang ties but that didn’t seem to help.

Connie Bosarge, a Jackson County jail employee, often reviews outgoing mail from inmates. She said she read Vallum’s letters and some information stood out so she turned it over to her boss.

In the letter, she said, Vallum talked about how authorities thought he was just some low-ranking secretary in the Latin Kings instead of statewide secretary.

“They made some guess about my rank,” Vallum wrote, “and kinda got it right.”

KOS: Kill on sight

Other witnesses confirmed Vallum’s gang name and said he served as the gang’s statewide secretary. His duties included collecting dues, which fund food, meals and other items for their meetings.

Vallum had King Chaos tattooed on one arm, and various other Latin Kings symbols on his body.

After his arrest in Williamson’s killing, former George County Investigator Ben Brown said Vallum was reluctant to talk about gang activities or turn over the documentation he had, including the gang’s bylaws and membership lists.

The membership list, District Attorney Tony Lawrence pointed out, had such terms as “KOS,” short for shoot on sight, by certain members’ names who had apparently violated bylaws that couldn’t be forgiven.

Other notations showed certain members had been excommunicated for whatever they had done.

Brown said Vallum admitted to the killing but claimed he didn’t know Williamson was transgender. The way Vallum put it, he was kissing on Williamson and then reached between her legs and realized she had a penis, Brown said.

Vallum claimed he blacked out after that, then regained consciousness holding a hammer in his hand over Williamson’s dead body, Brown said.

He said he buried her on the property.

After the killing, Brown said, Vallum said he grabbed the bloody hammer and a stun gun, placed it in a plastic bag and threw it over the side of Interstate 10.

Afterward, he parked his car at fellow gang member’s home. That was Dustin Kelley, the brother of Dexter Kelley, a Meridian man accused in the beating death of Cliff Allyn, 16, of Vancleave.

No homosexuality allowed

Dustin Kelley said he used to be the head of the Latin Kings, serving as King Roll, but served for years before that as the enforcer, the gang member charged with punishing gang members who violated the bylaws or committed certain other acts.

He said the gang’s color is gold, but members usually wear a yellow bandanna. He said he recently left the gang because “it was time to grow up.” He said his fiancee has a baby on the way.

Lawrence pressed Kelley to talk about certain symbols near ex-members’ names on the membership lists the district attorney had obtained.

KOS was noted by a couple of names, Lawrence said, but the documentation did not list their infraction. Kelley wouldn’t confirm what the initials meant.

Kelley also said he had no recollection of any order to kill a member for anything.

The gang, he said, usually makes a decision together about punishment.

Members the gang wants out, he said, are usually excommunicated, which was noted near several of the members’ names on the list Lawrence presented.

Kelley also said he never knew of any homosexual relationship Vallum had been involved in.

Vallum, however, did park his car at a Gautier home where Kelley was living shortly after Williamson’s murder.

He said Vallum never told him he’d killed anybody. He said he also never looked in Vallum’s car or saw any blood stains. He said he hasn’t had anything to do with Vallum since the allegations surfaced against him.

Homosexuality in the gang, he said, is strictly forbidden, though he said he knows of no orders to kill if someone engages in such conduct. Once again, Lawrence pointed to the KOS notation on the membership list. Kill on sight is what it means, Lawrence said again, but Kelley wasn’t willing to confirm that.

Kelley made eye contact with Vallum as he left the courtroom after testifying, then walked on.

After the hearing, Judge Robert Krebs ruled testimony about Vallum’s gang membership and activity was relevant and could be used at his trial. The defense had objected, saying Vallum’s gang activity was not connected to the crime.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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