The murder of Marco McMillian — the openly gay black politician who'd recently announced his candidacy for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi — may end up prompting more questions about the killer's punishment than his identity.
Lawrence Reed, the 22-year-old arrested after crashing McMillian's SUV miles from where the victim's body was found, was charged with homicide last week. But on Sunday, McMillian's family suggested that they felt the intentional nature of McMillian's "brutal murder" warranted classification as a hate crime. KLTV.com shared the family's statement, which read, in part:
We know that Marco was brutally murdered. His body was found on Wednesday, February 26, 2013, beaten, dragged and burned (set afire). This was reported in our meeting with the local coroner on two occasions. We were informed that the official autopsy report could take two to four weeks to complete. We feel that this was not a random act of violence based on the condition of the body when it was found. Marco, nor anyone, should have their lives end in this manner.
There doesn't appear to be official corroboration of how McMillian died. Someone with "direct knowledge of the investigation" told the Associated Press that "McMillian had some bruises and there were burns on at least one area of his body." The Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger cites McMillian's godfather with similar information, based on conversations with the coroner and on photographs shown to the family.
If McMillian's sexual orientation was the motive for the crime, prosecutors will have to appeal to federal statute to charge Reed with a hate crime. Under federal law, a hate crime is defined as "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." Mississippi's law, on the other hand, considers only the victim's "perceived race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or gender" as sufficient motivation for a hate crime. It isn't only sexual orientation in which the state law is lacking; a recent case in which a boy with cerebral palsy was assaulted at school has prompted calls for the addition of "disability" to that list as well, matching the federal standard.
In this case, the distinction may be irrelevant. A spokesman from the county sheriff's department told the Clarion-Ledger yesterday that the department "isn't exploring" hate crime charges. Making McMillian's death no less tragic — and Mississippi's hate crimes law no less insufficient.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.