Crime

Dee Whigham’s casket will be closed at her funeral — here’s why

The mother of a transgender woman killed at a St. Martin hotel learned Wednesday the wounds her child suffered included “deep” stab wounds to her face.

Vickie Whigham said the injuries, described to her by Jackson County investigators as “brutal,” were so bad the family will be unable to see her body one last time. The mother said the funeral home also told her the young woman’s wounds were severe when she went there Wednesday to try to make final arrangements.

“It’s going to be a closed casket,” Vickie Whigham said.

She has been grief stricken ever since she learned her child, Dee “DJ” Whigham, 25, was robbed and brutally stabbed to death Saturday night during an attack in a room at a Best Western hotel. She had come to the Coast with friends and co-workers to attend the Gulf Coast Black Rodeo.

Dee Whigham was a registered nurse at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.

Dwanya Hickerson, 20, of New Orleans, is being held on a capital murder charge in the killing.

On Wednesday, County Court Judge T. Larry Wilson ordered Hickerson remain jailed without bond. He denied Hickerson’s court-appointed attorney’s request to consider bond.

Hickerson, a Navy seaman studying to be a weather forecaster, said he’d also lived in Monroe, La., and New Orleans.

Two members of the Navy attended the hearing. Chief Warrant Officer Charles Hamilton and Lt. Peter Otten said they were from Keesler and worked in the unit with Hickerson, but could not comment. They said they were not attending the hearing as Hickerson’s supporters, but as observers.

Hickerson has been in custody since Monday, when Jackson County investigators arrested him at Keesler.

The investigation began Saturday night after friends found Dee Whigham’s body. She had also been robbed, Sheriff Mike Ezell said.

Jackson County investigators said a tip identified Hickerson from hotel surveillance images the Sheriff’s Department released showing a hall near Whigham’s hotel room at 8:35 p.m. Saturday. He was carrying a backpack and wearing a green shirt. Less than 25 minutes later, the video captured Hickerson leaving with his shirt off and hanging around his neck.

Ezell said he could not elaborate on the ongoing investigation, but said if the killing is a hate crime, it will be prosecuted as such. However, the state has no hate law that addresses gender identity or sexual orientation.

Hickerson was at Keesler studying to be a weather forecaster for the Navy. His classes were expected to run through the end of the summer, a military public affairs official told the Sun Herald.

Naval Criminal Intelligence Service also is investigating. For now, Hickerson is considered an active-duty sailor, but that could change if the Navy, based on its internal investigation, decides to discharge him.

Capital murder is a murder committed during the commission of another felony crime — in this case, robbery. If convicted, Hickerson faces a sentence of up to death.

The killing of a transgender person in South Mississippi first occurred in George County in May 2015, when Latin Kings street gang member Josh Vallum stabbed and beat to death Mercedes Williamson, 17, of South Alabama.

Vallum pleaded guilty to a state charge of murder earlier this month. He received a life sentence, but will be eligible for parole at age 65. A federal investigation, however, is continuing to determine if the murder was a hate crime.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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