LUCEDALE, Mississippi (AP) — A documented member of the Latin Kings street gang used a hammer to beat to death a transgender teen who once considered him a boyfriend.
A George County grand jury indicted 28-year-old Joshua Vallum in the killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, of Theodore, Ala. Williamson’s death made national news last year when Caitlyn Jenner remembered her during an acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe award at the ESPY awards.
The Sun Herald reports Vallum was transferred Friday from the East Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to the Jackson County jail to undergo a mental evaluation. He was to return to the prison in Meridian once the examination was completed.
Vallum has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the case. The grand jury indicted him on the lessor charge of murder, which carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison.
His trial is set for Feb. 1.
Vallum’s attorney, David Futch, declined to comment.
According to the indictment, Williamson died sometime between May 30, 2015 and June 2, 2015.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence would not say Friday whether the case was still being looked at as a possible hate crime.
“This investigation is still ongoing and I cannot comment on what additional charges, if any, will arise out of that,” Lawrence said.
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.