03/04/2013 09:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Marco McMillian's Family Claim Mississippi Mayoral Candidate's Death Was A Hate Crime

By Emily Le Coz

The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. -- The family of Marco McMillian, the Clarksdale mayoral candidate found brutally murdered last week, want authorities to investigate the death of the openly gay candidate as a hate crime after learning the gruesome details about his final moments.

The Coahoma County (Miss.) Sheriff's Department, however, isn't exploring that option, said its spokesman Will Rooker. The department is leading the investigation with the help of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. Bureau spokesman Warren Strain couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

McMillian was beaten, dragged, and set afire before his body was found Wednesday near the Mississippi River, according to a statement the family issued late Sunday and which was confirmed Monday by family friend and Marco McMillian's godfather, Carter Womack.

Womack also said the 33-year-old was found naked, bruised and swollen. The account was based on photographs the family saw, as well as two conversations it had with the coroner.

McMillian was one of the first viable openly gay candidates to run for office in Mississippi, according to the Victory Fund, a national organization that supports homosexual candidates.

"He was very concerned about his safety; people had tried to talk him out of the race," Womack said. "The family feels this ought to be investigated as a hate crime," Womack said.

So too does Larry Nelson Sr., president and CEO of Victims Group of Violent Crimes in Jackson, Miss., who had spoken to McMillian just days before his death: "This was a hate crime. I don't care if the perpetrator was black, white, or polka dotted."

Mississippi has a hate-crime law that covers race, religion and gender but doesn't extend to sexual orientation. Local and state agencies can seek assistance to pursue a federal hate crime, which does cover homosexuality, but they haven't done so in this case.

Rooker offered no comment on the family's statement. Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said only that McMillian's body wasn't dragged behind a vehicle but rather dragged from the vehicle to the spot where it was dumped.

Autopsy results won't be released until toxicology tests are complete, which could take an additional three weeks.

Authorities found McMillian's body a day after his sport-utility vehicle was involved in a head-on collision outside Clarksdale. The man driving was 22-year-old Lawrence Reed of Clarksdale, who later was charged with the candidate's murder.

McMillian was not in the SUV at the time; investigators believe he already was dead and had been dumped hours beforehand.

Chris Talley, the driver of the other vehicle, said authorities knew about the crime before the accident occurred. Talley was taken to a local hospital and released. Reed was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis and released Saturday. He's being held at the Shelby County Jail in Memphis, Tenn., until he can be extradited.

Authorities remain tight-lipped about the murder and its possible motives, not only with the media but with the McMillian family. Womack said the McMillians are frustrated by the lack of communication and feel the crime deserves a full investigation.

"The only contact with the sheriff's department the family has had was when the sheriff came by to say Marco was missing and then to say they found the body," he said. "There has been nothing at all. Not a call, not anything."

Rooker didn't comment about the communication between his department and the family.

Without definitive answers, mass speculation abounds. Among the numerous theories is that Reed allegedly killed McMillian after McMillian made sexual advances toward him, or that the two men possibly had been in a romantic relationship.

The family said it doesn't know Reed and never heard McMillian speak of him. Family members said they wanted to share what little facts they have about the case to dispel such speculation.

McMillian had moved back to his hometown of Clarksdale several months ago to enter the mayoral race. He had wanted to reduce crime and boost employment opportunities.

Before his return, the Democratic candidate had served as international executive director of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, executive assistant and chief of staff to the president of Alabama A&M University, and assistant to the vice president for institutional advancement at Jackson State University, his alma mater.

McMillian, who also has a master's degree from St. Mary's University in Minnesota, ran a firm providing professional consultation to nonprofit organizations.



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