March 29, 2013 11:00:27 AM
JACKSON-- More than a month has passed since the body of a Mississippi mayoral candidate was found dumped near a river levee, but the exact cause of his death remains largely a mystery pending the release of an autopsy report.
Clarksdale mayoral candidate Marco McMillian, 33, was found dead in rural Coahoma County on Feb. 27, one day after another man, Lawrence Reed, wrecked McMillian's SUV.
Reed, 22, was alone in McMillian's vehicle. He was taken to a Tennessee hospital and later charged with murder.
Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said Thursday that he has not received the autopsy report from the state crime lab. The medical examiner is waiting for an investigative report from the sheriff's office, and that will be incorporated into the autopsy report before it's released, Meredith said.
The physical part of the autopsy on the body was done earlier in the investigation and McMillian was buried March 9.
Will Rooker, a spokesman with the sheriff's department, had no immediate comment Thursday.
Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, the agency over the state crime lab, said autopsy findings are not released "piecemeal," so information such as the cause of death won't be made public until the autopsy report is finalized.
Since Reed's arrest, the Coahoma County Sheriff's Office, the lead agency in the investigation, has released little information about the case.
That has frustrated McMillian's family.
"It's just like it went into a dark hole. We have not been contacted by the sheriff's department, the prosecutors, nothing," Carter Womack, McMillian's godfather, said this week.
McMillian's face was bruised and there were small burns on a couple of places on his body. The burns appeared to have come after his death, the coroner has said.
McMillian's death got significant attention after his campaign said he was the first viable, openly gay candidate for office in Mississippi. McMillian's sexuality was not an issue in the campaign, but because McMillian was gay and black, some speculated that his death was a hate crime.
Reed also is black. Authorities have not given a possible motive.
Reed was taken into custody by Shelby County, Tenn., authorities after being released from the Regional Medical Center in Memphis in early March. He appeared in Shelby County court on a fugitive warrant from Mississippi and waived extradition.
Mississippi authorities picked up Reed on March 13 and took him back to Coahoma County. He's being held without bond.
It's possible that Reed won't have a court appearance until after a grand jury meets, said Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law. Steffey is not involved in the case.
Defendants are afforded the right to a hearing to notify them of the charges against them, and that was taken care of at the extradition hearing in Tennessee, Steffey said. And the other pressing matter in a criminal case is bond, but Reed's attorney may not ask for a bond hearing because he's not likely to get bond, Steffey said.
Mississippi law allows for a suspect to be held without bond on a murder charge.
Rooker, the spokesman for the sheriff's office, said Reed has hired a lawyer, but he didn't know the attorney's name. Reed's family has not responded to requests to provide a lawyer's name or other information.
McMillian's family released a statement March 3 that said his body was "beaten, dragged and burned," leading some to assume it was dragged by a car.
The coroner has said McMillian was not dragged by a car, though he was dragged out of a vehicle by someone and his body left near a Mississippi River levee.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, asked the FBI on March 5 to review the case for possible hate crime charges.
Daniel McMullen, the special agent in charge in Mississippi, has said the agency has been monitoring the investigation since March 1 and will continue to do so.
The FBI could determine whether to file a federal hate crime charge, which covers acts motivated by bias against sexual orientation. Mississippi's state law against hate crimes covers acts motivated by race, but not sexual orientation.