A federal court in Mississippi issued a 49-year prison sentence to Joshua Vallum, the first person prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for targeting a victim because of gender identity, reports NPR. Vallum pleaded guilty last year to the 2015 assault and murder of Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old transgender girl whom he says he once dated. “Crimes motivated by hate have devastating effects on the victims, their families and community but also leave a blemish on our society as a whole,” said FBI agent Christopher Freeze in Jackson, Ms.
The Justice Department called it the first case “involving a victim targeted because of gender identity” prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law expanded in 2009 to cover victims attacked because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. The federal case itself moved quickly. Vallum was charged last December 14 and pleaded guilty just one week later. Vallum is already serving a life sentence for the same incident, having pleaded guilty to murder last July in a state case.