On May 30, 2015, Vallum drove to Alabama to find Williamson and
convinced her to get in his car. They drove to his father’s house in
Lucedale, Mississippi, and he brutally attacked her, stabbing her with a
knife and beating her with a hammer. His family called local police
after Vallum entered the house covered in blood. Responding officers
found Williamson’s body in the woods and later contacted the FBI.
told gang members about the killing the next day. He lied and said he
didn’t know Williamson was a male until they became intimate, and then
he snapped and killed her in a fit of rage.
Vallum later told Task
Force Officer Jonathan Carroll the same story in an interview, shortly
after he surrendered to law enforcement. Carroll is an officer with the
Ocean Springs (Mississippi) Police Department and is assigned full time
to the FBI Safe Streets Task Force.
In the midst of the
investigation, Lorrain’s supervisor attended a conference on identifying
hate crimes and victims’ rights. Two civil rights attorneys from the
Department of Justice presented an overview of the Shepard-Byrd Act.
Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Rachel Byrd (no relation to James
Byrd, Jr.) recognized the possibility for federal prosecution and
approached the attorneys.
“The DOJ attorneys were very enthusiastic about prosecuting this horrific murder under the Shepard-Byrd Act,” Byrd said.
found himself facing state murder charges and the federal hate crime
charge. In light of overwhelming evidence, he pleaded guilty in state
court in 2016, and was sentenced to life in prison. He later pleaded
guilty to the hate crime.
Even though he received a life sentence
in Mississippi, the federal plea and sentencing are important, Lorrain
said. “The entire story about why Vallum killed Williamson wasn’t public
until we charged him at the federal level. And now there is a precedent
for future cases. There have been reports of a number of crimes against
Because some states—including Mississippi—do
not have hate crime statutes that protect people from bias based on
gender identity, the successful federal prosecution of Vallum could help
other transgender victims gets justice. The federal sentence also
ensures that Vallum will serve at least 49 years in federal prison,
regardless of any early release he may be granted on his state sentence.