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Street gang member indicted in transgender teen’s death

A Mississippi grand jury has indicted 28-year-old Joshua Vallum (left) in the killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson.
A Mississippi grand jury has indicted 28-year-old Joshua Vallum (left) in the killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson.

Under state law, a hate crime is defined as a criminal offense against someone based on one’s “race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or gender.” Federal law defines a hate crime as a crime committed against someone or someone’s property due to one’s bias against “race, religion, disability, ethnic orientation or sexual orientation.”

The Department of Justice has been involved in the investigation, with the George County Sheriff’s Department heading up the probe.

Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Brown said last year that Vallum and Williamson had known one another for nine to 11 months. Brown also said he had been told Vallum knew Williamson was a transgender woman, but he said that remained under investigation.

George County launched an investigation after Vallum’s father called to say his son had told him he had killed someone. Deputies found Williamson’s partially-decomposed body on June 1 in the rural Rocky Creek community.

Williamson was among 21 transgender women killed in the United States last year compared 12 in 2014, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

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