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Family of slain gay candidate say it was hate crime

Marco McMillian was campaigning to be first openly homosexual Mississippi mayor

The family of a Mississippi mayoral candidate who was killed have called on police to investigate his death as a hate crime, after learning the violent details of his murder.

The body of 33-year-old Marco McMillian, an African-American who was campaigning to become the state’s first openly gay mayor, was found last Wednesday near the banks of the Mississippi River, outside Clarksdale.

According to a statement issued by his family, Mr McMillian’s body was naked, bruised and swollen, and had been dragged to the spot and set alight. The family had spoken to the coroner, and been shown photographs. “We feel that this was not a random act of violence, based on the condition of the body when it was found,” they said in the statement, which was released on Sunday. “Marco, nor anyone, should have their lives end in this manner.”

Mr McMillian had been running as a Democrat candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, his home town. The Victory Fund, which supports lesbian and  gay political candidates, said he was one of the first viable openly gay men to run for office in Mississippi. The victim’s godfather, Carter Womack, told NBC news: “People had tried to talk him out of the race.”

A 22-year-old man, Lawrence Reed, has been charged with the murder. Mr Reed was allegedly driving McMillian’s SUV when it was involved in a collision last Wednesday. He reportedly directed police to the location of the victim’s body. The connection between the two men remains unclear. The case is being investigated by local police in conjunction with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.

Will Rooker, spokesman for the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department, declined to comment until the post-mortem examination results are released. Mr Rooker said the authorities “have not yet confirmed or denied the motive of the crime”.

Mississippi’s state hate-crime law extends to victims on the basis of race, religion and gender but not sexual orientation. However, state and local law enforcement agencies can pursue perpetrators of alleged hate crimes under a federal law, which also takes in homosexuality. Larry Nelson Sr, the president of Mississippi’s Victims Group of Violent Crimes, had spoken to Mr McMillian in the days before his death, and told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “This was a hate crime. I don’t care if the perpetrator was black, white, or polka-dotted.”

In 2004, McMillian was named by Ebony magazine as one of “30 up-and-coming African-Americans” under 30.