CLARKSDALE — The FBI says it has been monitoring the state investigation into the death of an openly gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi, but the agency didn’t indicate it had opened its own investigation.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson asked Tuesday for the FBI to “review the circumstances and evidence” in the slaying of Marco McMillian, who was running for mayor of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta. Thompson, whose daughter attended college with McMillian, said he had known the victim for years.
“The FBI is aware of the case, has been monitoring the state investigation, and will assess evidence to determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate,” FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden said yesterday in a statement. She said the FBI has been following the investigation since March 1, shortly after learning of the circumstances surrounding McMillian’s death.
The FBI could determine whether to file a federal hate crime charge, which covers acts motivated by bias against sexual orientation. Mississippi’s state law against hate crimes covers acts motivated by race, but not sexual orientation.
“The FBI will continue to monitor this investigation, and will continue its ongoing dialogue with the Coahoma Sheriff’s Office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation,” Madden said in her statement. “The full resources of the FBI have been made available to our state and local partners.”
The Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office has been the lead agency in the investigation with assistance from the MBI,, said Mississippi Department Public of Safety spokesman Warren Strain.
Strain said the sheriff’s office asked for MBI’s assistance when a man wrecked McMillian’s car on Feb. 26, but McMillian was nowhere to be found. Authorities say the man charged with McMillian’s murder, 22-year-old Lawrence Reed, was driving the car when it wrecked.
McMillian’s body was found the next day near a Mississippi River levee in Coahoma County.
Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday that he has confidence in the sheriff investigating the death but that he wants the FBI to get involved because that’s what McMillian’s family wants. Thompson’s district includes the area where McMillian died.
McMillian’s campaign had said he was one of the first openly gay, viable candidates for public office in Mississippi.
McMillian was black, as is Reed.
The cause of death has not been released. An autopsy was performed, but toxicology tests are pending, and authorities say it could take two weeks to get those results.
The victim’s family said in a statement Sunday that the body was “beaten, dragged and burned,” leading some to assume it was dragged by a car.
Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said Tuesday that McMillian was not dragged by a car, he was dragged out of a vehicle by someone and his body left near the levee. He said McMillian’s body had a couple of small burns that happened after his death.
Reed was treated at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis. He was taken into custody by authorities in Shelby County, Tenn., when he was released from the hospital on Saturday.
Chip Washington, a spokesman for Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday that paperwork on Reed’s extradition is being completed and he is scheduled to be picked up by Mississippi authorities on or before March 15.