The motive for the murder of an openly gay candidate for mayor of the City of Clarksdale, Miss., and the exact cause of his death remained unclear on Friday, one day after sheriff’s deputies charged a 22-year-old man with the candidate’s slaying.
The Sheriff’s Office said the body of Marco McMillian, 34, one of four candidates running in the May 7 Democratic primary for mayor, was found Wednesday on an earthen levee next to the Mississippi River just outside of Clarksdale.
Although Sheriff’s Office officials said the motive for the murder was unclear, they said there was no evidence to indicate the incident was a hate crime or politically motivated.
The body was found one day after Lawrence Reed, the man arrested for the murder, was inside McMillian’s sports utility vehicle when it became involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle at a location miles away from where McMillian’s body was found, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said.
McMillian was not in the vehicle at the time of the collision. Authorities have not said whether they learned how Reed happened to be in the vehicle at the time of the accident or whether Reed and McMillian knew each other.
At the time they arrested Reed, the Sheriff’s Office also declined to disclose whether it was Reed or someone else who was driving the SUV at the time of the collision.
An emergency medical team airlifted Reed to a nearby hospital for treatment, the sheriff’s spokesperson, Will Rooker, said. The discovery that the SUV belonged to McMillian prompted the Sheriff’s Office to begin a search to find the candidate, whose campaign supporters said he failed to show up for a scheduled campaign meeting.
“We’re just all devastated over his loss,” said Jarod Keith, McMillian’s campaign spokesperson.
Keith told the Blade that although McMillian was viewed as an underdog in the race, he was considered a viable candidate who had a shot at winning.
“We had double the number of Facebook friends the other candidates had,” Keith said. “He would have been a great mayor.”
Clarksdale, which has a population of about 18,000, is a majority black city with an overwhelming majority of voters who are registered as Democrats. No Republican filed to run in the mayoral election.
An independent candidate entered the race and was expected to be on the ballot for the general election, which is scheduled for June 4.
McMillian was a Democrat with ties to Democratic Party activists in other parts of the country. His Facebook campaign page includes photos of him with former President Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
He was competing against three other Democrats in the May primary, including Chuck Espy, the son of incumbent Mayor Henry Espy, who announced he was not running for re-election.
Henry Espy became Clarksdale’s first black mayor when he first won election to the post in 1989. Except for a four-year hiatus in the 1990s, Henry Espy has served as the city’s mayor since 1989, making it clear that the barrier of electing a black person as mayor of the Mississippi delta city had long been broken.
Keith said McMillian had hoped to break another barrier by becoming Mississippi’s first openly gay elected official. Although his sexual orientation was known to Clarksdale’s political establishment and the media, Keith said his campaign focused on McMillian’s vision for lifting the economy and quality of life for a community faced with poverty and a crime rate far higher than the national average.
Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that provides financial and logistical support for LGBT candidates for public office, said McMillian attended the Victory Fund’s annual LGBT Leadership Conference last November, where he promoted his candidacy.
McMillian served for four years as executive director of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., an internationally known black fraternity. He most recently served as CEO of MWM & Associates, a consulting firm for non-profit organizations. A biography on his website says he worked in the past at Alabama A&M University and Jackson State University.