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In what is a first in U.S. history, a man pleaded guilty in a Mississippi federal court Wednesday on a federal hate crime charge involving a transgender victim, the Sun Herald reported.
Josh Vallum, a 29-year-old member of the Latin Kings street gang, admitted to stabbing and killing Mercedes Williamson, 17, in May 2015 because she was a transgender girl, the newspaper reported. He had previously denied killing her because of her gender identity.
Additionally, Vallum admitted crossing state lines to commit the murder and hiding the sexual relationship he had with the victim from his family and friends, including his fellow gang members.
Vallum is already serving a life sentence with parole on a state charge for the same murder. In that case, he claimed to enter a guilty plea to protect fellow Latin Kings gang members.
Vallum faces a life sentence without parole and up to a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced March 21.
“Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs: that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
“Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle, and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity,” she added. “While Mississippi convicted (Vallum) on murder charges, we believe in the fundamental value of identifying and prosecuting these bias-fueled incidents for what they are: acts of hate.”