UPDATE:: Mississippi man indicted in transgender teen's bludgeoning death with hammer
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, officials say.
A George County grand jury indicted Joshua "Josh" Vallum on a charge of murder in the killing of Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old Theodore, Ala., resident whose birth name was Michael Christopher Wilkins. At the time of her death, Williamson was an aspiring cosmetologist living in a $50-a-week apartment.
"This investigation is still ongoing and I cannot comment on what additional charges, if any, will arise out of that," he said.
Investigators have, however, been looking into whether the killing was gang-related, drug-related or a hate crime.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been involved in the investigation, which the George County Sheriff's Department is heading up.
George County Sheriff Department Capt. Ben Brown told the Sun Herald Tuesday that he and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force have been giving the trans teen's death "a thorough investigation to bring justice to the victim's family."
"We are trying to determine whether [the killing] is drug-related, gang-related or a hate crime," he said. "These cases take time to work, and we are working on it as diligently as we can." Brown identified Williamson by her male birth name and did not mention that she was transgender, notes the newspaper.
Once the investigation into her death has concluded, prosecutors will present evidence to a Mississippi grand jury, which will then decide whether to indict Vallum. District Attorney Tony Lawrence told the Herald that the grand jury is able to indict under the state's hate-crime statute. However, the statute does not refer to crimes committed against perceived gender identity, but rather "gender" — meaning the grand jury would have to interpret this provision to include a victim's transgender status.
Vallum's motives still remain unclear, but the Herald has uncovered documentation indicating that he is a member of the Latin Kings street gang, as well as the fact that he lived near where Williamson shared a one-bedroom camper with 41-year-old roommate Jeanie Miller.
Murderer of Mississippi Trans Teen Mercedes Williamson May Face Hate Crime Charges | Advocate.com