Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unexpected Reaction From Sessions Regarding Transgender Hate Crime Sentence

Joshua Vallum
Joshua Vallum in Mississippi state court in July, 2016
Photo credit: John Fitzhugh/The Sun Herald, via Associated Press
Late Monday a federal judge in Gulfport, Mississippi sentenced Joshua Vallum to 49 years in prison for the murder of a transgender woman in 2015. This is the first case to be prosecuted according to the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act based on the gender identity of the victim. The State of Mississippi had already sentenced Vallum to life without the possibility of parole for the same murder to which Vallum pleaded guilty.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is no friend of the LGBT community. I did not expect him to comment at all. If he did comment I would have expected it to be along the lines of “murder is murder.” I am wrong on both counts. According to Sessions, in a statement quoted by the Associated Press:
Today's sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals. The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.
Vallum is a member of the Latin Kings and was having an affair with 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson. Vallum shocked Williamson with a stun gun, stabbed her and beat her to death, supposedly, to keep fellow Latin Kings gang members from discovering the two were having sex. Gang rules barred homosexual activity and declared it punishable by death. Prior to entering into a plea agreement Vallum trotted out the “trans panic” defense.

In passing sentence, Judge Louis Guirola Jr. said:
The taking of a human life because a person has a particular gender identity is particularly heinous and cannot be tolerated in an enlightened society.
Hate group leader Tim Wildmon of American Family Association, which is headquartered in Mississippi, has reportedly suffered a head explosion. We are uncertain if he is offended that we are an enlightened society or offended by the concept that violence based on gender identity is “particularly heinous.” Perhaps he was shocked by the statement of Jefferson Sessions.

Nevertheless, Vallum is now in prison for life without possibility of parole. Presumably — hopefully — we will never hear from him again.

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