Feds announce first hate crime plea with transgender victim

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi man who previously admitted killing a transgender teen from Alabama because of her sexual identity has pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime.

The U.S. Justice Department says the plea, entered Wednesday by 28-year-old Joshua Brandon Vallum of Lucedale, Mississippi, is the nation's first involving a victim targeted because of gender identity under a federal hate crime law.

Vallum pleaded guilty to a state murder charge in July in the 2015 beating death of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson of Theodore, Alabama.

Born Michael Wilkins, Williamson dated Vallum. Authorities say Vallum was in a gang that banned homosexuality, and killed Williamson after a friend discovered Williamson wasn't biologically female.

Vallum already is serving a life sentence in state prison. He faces the same sentence in the federal case.


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