Joshua Newton, 25, was charged last month with first-degree murder and obstruction of justice in the death of 18-year-old Jacob Williamson. According to the Union County Sheriff’s Office last week, Newton is now also charged with felony conspiracy. His girlfriend, Victoria Smith, 22, now faces charges of murder and conspiracy to commit a felony on top of initial obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact charges, according to jail records.

On June 30, Williamson was chauffeured off to his first date. He’d been living with Promise Edwards, 37, a family friend, who says Williamson had recently come out as trans. Williamson had told Edwards he’d met a man online and she recalls the two were in constant communication — texting, calling and FaceTiming every day. Although nervous, Edwards eventually agreed to support Williamson going on a date to Carowinds.

Edwards watched him get into Newton’s car after his shift at Waffle House that day, she has previously told the Observer and detectives. She never saw him again. Four days later, he was found dead on the side of a road in Pageland, South Carolina.

In Union County District Court on Tuesday, a judge granted continuance in the case. Prosecutors will seek a grand jury indictment, which would move the case to Superior Court, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Police — while identifying Williamson by another name and not using he/him pronouns — are not investigating the killing as a hate crime. And those who were closest to him have said they don’t see indications the violence was related to his gender identity.

Edwards doesn’t think Williamson was targeted because of how he identified, but rather was vulnerable because of the strain and isolation that came with his transition. Now, she wants to focus on how lawmakers can push for accountability from the apps that easily connect strangers.

Dating App Identity Verification

Dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, Hinge and Bumble offer identity verification through face scans and cross checks with government-issued identification cards. But some sites — like Discord and Twitch, which Edwards’ daughter said Williamson used — allow users to have multiple accounts or operate without any verification.

When Edwards looked Newton up on Facebook before his death, she saw only his account that used the last name “Newmon.” That’s all she and Williamson knew him by. Now, every time she logs on to her own accounts, like TikTok, she’s scared. The thought of responding to anyone — even followers supporting “#JusticeforJacob,” which has garnered national attention — puts a pit in her stomach.

Promise Edwards, seen here outside of the Union County Judicial Center in Monroe holds a photo of murder victim Jacob Williamson. Edwards got a tattoo of the transgender teen’s name four days after he was found dead. | Photo by Julia Coin for The Charlotte Observer /

“I don’t think any of us will ever trust anybody the same,” she said outside the Union County Justice Center Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll never look at the internet the same way, really, and we’ll never look at dating the same ever again.”

Identity verification needs to become standard practice across the board, she said, standing with her 19-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old family friend. The trio will show up at every court date for Newton and Smith, they said. Edwards says she is praying for Williamson’s loved ones, and families of Newton and Smith.

On Tuesday, they drove the two hours from their home in Laurens, South Carolina, to the courthouse in Monroe on Tuesday although Edwards weren’t sure Newton and Smith would be in court. They carried photos of Williamson, and Edwards wore an LGBTQ+ “Ally” pin and a T-shirt printed with three photos of Williamson.

“When he opens his eyes [in court] he’s going to see us,” Edwards said. “And I will make sure that when he closes his eyes, he’ll see Jacob.” 

This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.

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