For the first time since its passage in 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act has been used to bring charges for targeting a victim because they were transgender.. This Act expanded existing federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by bias against the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. In the Mississippi case, federal prosecutors charged Joshua Vallum under the act for the brutal 2015 murder of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson.
Vallum pled guilty yesterday for violating the federal Hate Crimes law. He faces up to a life sentence and a $250,000 fine. He pled guilty to murder charges under state law in Mississippi in July, but Mississippi is one of 15 states that does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its hate crimes law.
HRC welcomes last week’s federal charges in this tragic case. The Department of Justice’s leadership on hate crimes prevention is essential for stemming the epidemic of violence facing the transgender community. We urge the incoming Trump administration to continue to enforce this important law and to commit to protecting the rights of LGBT Americans facing violence in their communities.