A Mississippi man received a 49-year prison sentence in federal court on Monday for the murder of his former transgender girlfriend, the New York Times reports.
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A statement from the U.S. Justice Department said this is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement.
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Joshua Vallum, 29, killed 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson in May 2015 because she was transgender. The two were in a romantic relationship, but Vallum, a member of the Latin Kings gang, kept Williamson’s gender identity a secret.
The Justice Department said Vallum, who pleaded guilty, decided to kill his former girlfriend after a friend discovered she was transgender. Vallum feared that other gang member would attack him if they knew he was in a consensual sexual relationship with a transgender woman.
Vallum had pleaded guilty to state murder charges last July and sentenced to life for the killing. In December, he pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime.
According to CNN, Mississippi lacks a hate crimes law that covers gender identity. Consequently, the DOJ prosecuted Vallum under federal laws.
The Human Rights Campaign told The Times that Mississippi is one of 20 states that lacks a gender identity provision for hate crimes.