• FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2016 file photo, Joshua Vallum is photographed in the George County Regional Correctional Facility in Lucedale, Miss. (Tim Isbell/The Sun Herald via AP, File)Source: Tim Isbell/The Sun Herald via AP, File
The Trump Administration has announced the first ever federal sentencing of a man for committing a trans hate crime, a prosecution which occurred under legislation the Attorney General himself originally opposed.
Ben Winsor

16 May 2017 - 4:28 PM  UPDATED 16 May 2017 - 5:41 PM

A Federal Court in the United States has sentenced a man under national hate crimes laws for targeting a victim based on their gender identity.

Joshua Brandon Vallum from Mississippi was sentenced to 49 years in prison for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson because he feared fellow gang members would find out about their prior relationship.

The 29-year-old admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with Ms Williamson and knew she was transgender, a fact he concealed from family, friends and members of a Latin street gang he had joined.

Although he had broken up with Ms Williamson, he told the court he decided to kill her after learning that a friend had discovered she was transgender.

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Federal hate crimes laws were expanded to include crimes motivated by LGBT+ identity in 2009. This is the first use of the laws in a case involving a transgender victim, the Justice Department says.

The conviction was announced in a press release by Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s controversial Attorney General, whose nomination was condemned by LGBT+ groups and civil rights organisations.

“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” Attorney General Sessions said in a statement.

“The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”

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"Yeah, I killed him, but he did worse to me," the killer told police. "He tried to root me."

They're words which will be greeted with surprise and scepticism by some.

The former senator from Alabama repeatedly voted against hate crimes legislation, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Preventions Act which his department used to prosecute Mr Vallum.

Attorney General Sessions was reportedly a leading force behind the Trump Administration’s repeal of Obama-era Education Department protections for transgender students, which allowed them to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

The prosecution was initiated by the Obama Administration last year.

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