LUCEDALE, Miss. (AP) — In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, supporters of LGBT rights hailed the first federal hate crime conviction for the killing of a transgender woman in Mississippi. With President Donald Trump now in office, they worry about the future of such prosecutions.
Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, opposed the 2009 hate crime law when he was a U.S. senator, saying it was overly broad and he thought it was unnecessary to include further protections for gay and transgender people. During his January confirmation hearing, Sessions told fellow senators they “can be sure I will enforce” the law, but some observers wonder about his commitment.
“We really might be looking at a new day under Sessions, and that has huge implications for how the federal government is going to treat violence that is absolutely rampant in the transgender community,” said Jordan Woods, a University of Arkansas law professor who studies LGBT legal issues.
Sentencing in the Mississippi case is May 15. With a plea agreement in place, it’s unlikely Sessions could change the strategy in this prosecution.
Joshua Vallum, an ex-convict and top-ranking gang member, faces life in prison without parole for killing 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, who was born male but transitioned to a female. Prosecutors say Vallum, 29, and Williamson dated and that he killed his transgender girlfriend because he worried fellow gang members would discover their relationship and kill both of them because gay sex was strictly forbidden by the Latin Kings gang.
Attorney Dru Levasseur of the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal said supporters had a frustratingly long wait for the first federal hate crime prosecution involving a transgender person.
“We waited for many years for the government to finally deploy that law,” Levasseur said.