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After 9 Years The First Prosecution Under The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act Set To Happen

Although passed over nine years ago, authorities have been lacking in the use or prosecution under The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.  But that is about to change.

Joshua Vallum, 27, of Mississippi who pleaded guilty Wednesday for the hate crime of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Mercedes Williamson (pictured left), a transgender teenager will be the landmark first prosecution under the federal hate crimes law.

Vallum stabbed Villiamson multiple times with a military knife and beat her with a claw hammer until “the screaming stopped”, according to Alabama.com.

According to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vallum was well aware of Williamson’s transgender identity prior to the crime, making him subject to prosecution under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. For this reason, although Vallum had previously pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree murder.  Because Mississippi does not have a statute that protects people from bias crimes based on gender identity, the federal government was able to bring federal hate crime charges.

Vallum  claimed he only learned about Williamson’s transgender identity upon commission of the crime, but details emerged that showed that he knew almost a year before he had dated her. Vallum also admitted that he would not have killed her if she were not transgender.

“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,” US 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.”
 
Vallum was a member of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation crime gang
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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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