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‘Gay panic’ defense in Miss. murder case

Details in dispute; group calls on Justice Dept. to investigate

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Marco McMillan, gay news, Washington Blade
Marco McMillan, gay news, Washington Blade

Marco McMillan (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A county coroner in Mississippi disputed claims by family members of gay mayoral candidate Marco McMillian that McMillian was murdered on Feb. 26 by being beaten, burned and dragged naked along an earthen levee next to the Mississippi River near the City of Clarksdale.

The dispute between the family and Coahoma County coroner Scotty Meredith surfaced on Tuesday shortly after local TV news stations reported that Lawrence Reed, 22, the man charged with McMillian’s murder, told friends that he killed the mayoral candidate in self-defense after McMillian allegedly made sexual advances toward him.

Those claims created an immediate uproar among gay activists and McMillian’s friends and family members, who argued that Reed appeared to be invoking the so-called gay panic defense that has often been used by criminals who target gay men for violent attacks.

ABC 24 News of Clarksdale reported that Reed’s friends said Reed and McMillian met a few weeks before the murder at a Clarksdale bar and became friends. The friends told the TV news program they learned later that Reed, who says he’s straight, called his girlfriend immediately after he reportedly killed McMillian.

“She said she was listening to everything that was going on, how the guy was trying to get Lawrence to have a homosexual activity,” Derric Crump, one of Reed’s friends, said in an interview with the TV news program.

McMillian’s friends and family members dispute that account, saying McMillian would not do such a thing.

As developments in the case continued to unfold, the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT civil rights group based in Washington, D.C., announced on Tuesday that it has called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate McMillian’s murder as a possible hate crime.

“After speaking extensively with the family, community and anti-violence coalition members like the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, NBJC feels the perpetuation and validation of the ‘gay panic’ defense is irresponsible,” NBJC Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks said in a March 5 letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

“The conflicting reports as well as the current racial and anti-LGBT climate in Mississippi is justification enough for a federal investigation,” Lettman-Hicks said in her letter.

The dispute between the coroner and McMillian’s family members over the nature of the injuries suffered by McMillian came at a time when neither the coroner nor the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office have disclosed the cause of death or the motive for the murder.

According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, an autopsy was conducted but its results remain inconclusive until toxicology tests are completed. The coroner’s office has said the results of those tests wouldn’t be known until at least the end of the week if not later.

Meredith, the coroner, appeared to be the first public official to provide details about the nature of McMillian’s injuries when he spoke to the New York Times on Tuesday.

According to the Times, he said McMillian’s family apparently misinterpreted information he gave them a week earlier, prompting them to incorrectly disclose to the press and LGBT organizations that McMillian died from being brutally beaten, set on fire and dragged from the side of a road to the levee where his body was found on Feb. 27.

The Times reports Meredith as saying McMillian’s body was found unclothed, with a black eye and two small burns on his skin. Those injuries were not the cause of his death and the cause was still not confirmed pending the completion of the toxicology tests, he told the Times.

“There was no beating, although there may have been an altercation,” the Times quoted him as saying. “He got two little bitty burns.”

In a statement released on Tuesday prior to the publication of the New York Times story on the Times website, McMillian’s family members said the gay mayoral candidate was “brutally murdered.” He suffered severe injuries from being “beaten, dragged and burned (set afire),” the statement says.

“This was reported in our meeting with the local coroner on two occasions,” the statement says.

Meredith told the Times that burns the size of a half-dollar coin were found on McMillian’s hand and leg and that the cause of the burns were unknown.

“For this family, this was their child, whether he’s 34 years old or 3,” the Times quoted Meredith as saying. “They want to believe it was a hate crime. But we don’t have a hate crime.”

Lawrence Reed. (Photo courtesy Coahoma County Miss. Sheriff's Office)

Lawrence Reed. (Photo courtesy Coahoma County Miss. Sheriff’s Office)

The Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, Will Rooker, told the Blade investigators linked defendant Reed to the crime after he became involved in a head-on collision with a car while he was driving McMillian’s SUV on a highway on Feb. 26. McMillian wasn’t in the SUV, and the discovery that the vehicle belonged to McMillian prompted the Sheriff’s Office to launch an investigation into his whereabouts, Rooker said.

Reed was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Memphis, Tenn., which is the closest large city to Clarksdale, where he was treated and listed in stable condition. He appeared in a Memphis court on Monday and waived his right to fight extradition to Mississippi. He was being held without bond and was expected to be returned to Coahoma County, Miss., later this week.

The Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger reported yet another wrinkle in the case on Monday. According to the newspaper, the driver of the vehicle struck by the SUV Reed was driving said friends of Reed told him Reed’s girlfriend called 911 to report that Reed confessed to her that he killed McMillian and stole McMillian’s SUV.

The 911 call was made before the traffic accident occurred, Chris Talley, the driver of the other vehicle, told the Clarion-Ledger. Talley told the Clarion-Ledger he spoke with family members of Reed’s girlfriend at the Sheriff’s Office when he went there to pick up his belongings that were left behind at the scene of the accident.

“They already knew that the vehicle was stolen when the sheriff’s deputies arrived (at the scene of the wreck), and they already knew it was a murder,” the Clarion-Ledger quoted Talley as saying.

McMillian’s friends and campaign supporters said he was considered a viable candidate to become the first openly gay elected official in Mississippi. He was one of four candidates running in the May 7 Democratic primary for mayor in the majority Democratic city of Clarksdale.

With no Republican running in the election, the winner of the primary was expected to easily win the general election on June 4.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Jimmy Palmieri

    March 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    THIS IS SAD AND HORRIFYING. THE MURDERER MUST BE BROUGHT TO FULL JUSTICE. IT IS SAD IN THIS DAY AND AGE THAT IN MISSISSIPPI, A BLACK OR GAY MANS LIFE IS LESS THAN ANY OTHER.

  2. Mia Nicole Sparks

    March 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    So full of bullshit. Even if McMillan came onto him, what ever sexual orientation does not constitute murder, or even assault.

    Now if he continued past once, then maybe some physical action would be understandable. Though again not murder. Do you kill a woman who comes onto you that you don't want hitting on you? No.

    So this 'Gay Panic' bullshit has no place.

    • Jimmy Palmieri

      March 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      I dont believe for a second that this man who was running for public office, is black and is gay made any pass at anybody. He was targetted for those exact reasons. THIS IS THE TWINKY DEFENSE GONE AWRY.

    • Mia Nicole Sparks

      March 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Jimmy Palmieri I'm right there with you that it's just on the spot lie that they could come up with, to cover the real reasoning for this hate crime

    • Jerry P Davis

      March 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

      But he sure wouldn't be the first guy running for political office who acted irresponsibly.

    • Jerry P Davis

      March 9, 2013 at 12:42 am

      Well the murder sure isn't because he was black. That town had a black mayor for the past 20 years. Maybe because he was gay, but….we'll see..

  3. Lar_Dog

    March 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    “Officials” are going to get to the truth? Yeah, right – Mississippi. ’nuff said!

  4. Travis Fps Hourigan

    March 6, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Eye for an Eye with hate crimes I think is justifiable…

  5. Kalar Walters

    March 6, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    What the hell ever happened to 'walk away?' Did he have a gun on him? Good grief!

    • Kalar Walters

      March 6, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      But I don't think he made a pass in the first place. As a candidate for office, he would not compromise himself that way.

    • Kate Karwowski

      March 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Kalar Walters I agree that this is an unlikely scenario.

    • Kate Karwowski

      March 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Kalar Walters I agree that this is an unlikely scenario.

  6. Serwa Bowyer

    March 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    @MIA I agree with u

  7. Lee

    March 6, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    This story is unbelievable, how could it go this far? It’s very sad and Mr. McMillan was very accomplished. That said, if and it is a big “IF” the two were involved, they did know each other, this is the kind of crime the death penalty is used for since the murder appears to be depraved. Too bad we in the USA don’t get people right to trial like they did with Pistorius in South Africa. We may not have a trial for this for a year or so.

  8. Lefty Hall

    March 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T STOP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS AND EQUALITY ,THIS REED GUY WAS PROBABLY SETTING HIM UP TO ROB HIM &COVERED HIS TRACKS BY CLAIMING AN ADVANCE WAS MADE.,GOD THESE CLOSET CASES ARE SO PREDICTABLE,!!!

    • Daphne Daedre Page

      March 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      By commenting I hope to share!

  9. Joanne Equality Robrahn

    March 9, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    'Gay Panic' defense=Homophobia=hate crime!

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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