By Emily Wagster Pettus and Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
JACKSON — A Mississippi congressman on Tuesday asked the FBI to review the slaying of an openly gay mayoral candidate to determine if any federal laws might have been violated.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s district includes Clarksdale, where Marco McMillian was running. McMillian, 34, was found slain last week in a rural area nearby.
Thompson, a Democrat, 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.
“If another set of eyes looking at it would provide additional information, I think it would be helpful to the McMillian family,” Thompson told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
McMillian’s campaign had said he was one of the first openly gay, viable candidates for public office in Mississippi.
Coahoma County sheriff’s spokesman Will Rooker said the investigation continues and authorities are looking at all possibilities, including whether hate crime laws would apply.
Mississippi’s hate crimes law covers acts motivated by bias against a victim’s race but not sexual orientation. However, a federal hate crimes law covers bias against sexual orientation. Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the FBI could determine if a hate crimes charge should be considered.
McMillian was black, as is the man charged last week with murder in the case, Lawrence Reed, 22.
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.
In a news release, Thompson said: “The level of violence shown in this incident is unconscionable and the perpetrator of this atrocious act should be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”
McMillian’s godfather, Carter Womack, said the Coahoma County coroner told family members that someone dragged McMillian’s body under a fence and left it near a Mississippi River levee.
The victim’s family had said in a statement that the body was “beaten, dragged and burned,” leading some to assume it was dragged by a car.
Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said he doesn’t want anyone to make inaccurate assumptions about the death.
He told AP on Tuesday night 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 the burns were postmortem and in a couple of small places on the body.
“My concern is to determine the manner and cause of death and let law enforcement do their jobs,” McMillian said, adding that he wants to help the family in any way he can. “It’s all about getting closure for them, and the truth.”
A person with direct knowledge of the investigation confirmed to AP that McMillian’s body was bruised and there were burns on at least one area. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.
An investigation began Feb. 26 after McMillian’s SUV slammed head-on into another vehicle on U.S. Highway 49 near the Coahoma and Tallahatchie county lines.
Reed was driving the car, but McMillian was not in it, authorities say. McMillian’s body was found the next day.
Thompson said he has known McMillian for years. Thompson said his daughter and McMillian attended Jackson State University at the same time, and one of his congressional staffers was McMillian’s fraternity sponsor.
Thompson told AP: “He was a very talented young man who had a bright future.”
Mohr reported from Brandon, Miss.