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A Mississippi man on Wednesday pleaded guilty to a hate crime for murdering his ex-girlfriend because she was transgender, marking the first successful prosecution under federal hate crime laws for actions against a transgender person.

Josh Vallum, 29, a member of the Latin Kings gang, “willfully caused bodily injury” to 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson when he tased her, stabbed her multiple times in the head and body and struck her with a hammer. Vallum did so because of Williamson’s “actual and perceived gender identity.”

Vallum knew Williamson was a transgender teenage girl when they began dating, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

Though he had previously denied it, Vallum eventually confessed that he murdered his girlfriend because of her gender identity. In his plea, he said he would have not killed Williamson if she were not transgender.

“Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs, that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle, and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.”

The reason behind Williamson’s murder made Vallum eligible for prosecution under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The act allowed crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability to be part of the federal hate-crime law.

Vallum’s prosecution for targeting a transgender victim is the first in U.S. history under that law. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 21, and he now faces an additional sentence of life without parole and up to $250,000 in fines.

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