The family of Mississippi's first gay mayoral candidate, Marco McMillian, is calling on authorities to investigate his murder as a hate crime after acquiring new information.
According to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, McMillian's family said in a statement Sunday night that it has learned through photographs and discussions with Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith that McMillian was beaten, dragged and set on fire.
WJTV-TV reported on Monday that an "independent investigator" confirmed that McMillian's body did have bruises and burns.
However, a spokesperson for Coahoma County's Sheriff's Department said authorities are not pursuing that line of investigation. The state's hate-crime law currently applies to offenses related to the "actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender of the victim," but not sexual orientation. That restriction means local authorities would have to enlist help in pursuing the matter as a hate crime under federal law.
Authorities found McMillian's body near a levy on Feb. 27, hours after spotting another man, 22-year-old Lawrence Reed, in his SUV following a collision with another vehicle. Reed was charged with McMillian's murder on March 1.
While refusing to comment on the family's statement, Meredith told the newspaper McMillian's body was dragged from the vehicle to the spot near the levy, instead of being dragged behind it.
Prior to Sunday's statement, McMillian's mother had said she did not believe his sexual orientation played a role in his death, while conflicting reports emerged as to the nature of his friendship with Reed. A friend of Reed's said that McMillian "was trying to get Lawrence to have a homosexual activity," while a friend of McMillian's said the two men were having an affair and "got to tussling" at the time of their fatal encounter.
But a former mentor to McMillian told WJTV that the former Jackson State University student and consulting firm CEO felt his life was at risk -- not because of his sexuality, but because he was running to "clean up" Clarksdale, Mississippi as mayor.
"Clarksdale is gang-related right now, and drug-related," said Hilliard Lackey, an assistant history professor and school administrator.
A 2011 report by WPTY-TV found the town of about 18,000 people only had 50 police officers available to control what was described as a rise in crime and arson.
Watch WJTV's report, aired Monday night, below.