Coroner Disputes Family’s Account of Mississippi Mayoral Candidate’s Death
A Mississippi mayoral candidate who was found dead last week was not killed by being beaten, burned or dragged, the coroner said on Tuesday, challenging a statement from the victim’s family that the official said was misleading.
Describing the victim’s injuries for the first time, the Coahoma County coroner, Scotty Meredith, said the candidate, Marco W. McMillian, was found unclothed, with a black eye and two small burns on his skin. But those injuries did not cause his death, the coroner said.
“There was no beating, although there may have been an altercation,” Mr. Meredith said. “He’s got two little bitty burns.”
But a spokesman for the family, Mr. McMillian’s godfather, Carter Womack, said the coroner had told the family that the burns were more severe. “He said his body was burned extensively,” he said, adding that this was corroborated by a funeral director. “There were burns on his arms, his stomach and his legs.”
The authorities are still investigating how Mr. McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, ended up dead in the woods beside a river levee outside of the historic Delta blues town. The sheriff has charged Lawrence Reed, 22, with murder in the case, but the authorities have not released the cause of death pending toxicology tests.
The victim’s family said Sunday in a statement that he had been beaten, dragged and “burned (set afire).” But Mr. Meredith, who inspected the body, said that description was misleading and may have given the public the wrong impression. The two burns, on Mr. McMillian’s hand and leg, were small, about the size of half-dollar coins, he said. What caused the burns is unknown. He said Mr. McMillian appeared to have been punched in the face.
Mr. Womack, however, said that the wounds described to the family by the coroner suggested an attack so vicious that it had been a hate crime. Mr. Womack said that he believed that, given the severity of the wounds described to him and Mr. McMillian’s large stature, the attack would most likely have involved multiple people or one person who was particularly brutal. “If one person did it,” he said, “it was hate.”
Mr. McMillian was black and openly gay. “We are asking that a full and thorough investigation be conducted into the tragic death of Marco,” the family’s statement said.
Before his death, the family said Mr. McMillian had told relatives and close friends that “he was very concerned for his personal safety.”
The coroner met with Mr. McMillian’s family last week to describe the injuries. He said the family had reached their own conclusions.
“For this family, this was their child, this was their baby, whether he’s 34 years old or 3,” Mr. Meredith said. “They want to believe it was a hate crime. But we don’t have a hate crime.”
The National Black Justice Coalition, a gay rights group, called on Tuesday for the Department of Justice to investigate the killing.