Man charged in slaying of Miss. mayoral candidate

Marco McMillian, a mayoral candidate in Clarksdale, Miss., is seen in this Jan. 20, 2007, file photo. AP Photo/The Clarksdale Press Register

Updated 8:13 PM ET

JACKSON, Miss. A 22-year-old man was charged with murder Thursday in the death of a mayoral candidate in the Mississippi Delta.

The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department said in a news release that Lawrence Reed of Shelby was charged in the death of Marco McMillian. McMillian, 34, was a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale and was well-known in the community and beyond.

An investigation began Tuesday when a man crashed McMillian's SUV into another car on U.S. Highway 49 near the Coahoma and Tallahatchie county lines. The candidate wasn't in the car.

McMillian's body was found near the Mississippi River levee Wednesday morning between Sherard and Rena Lara, Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith has said.

The body was sent for an autopsy, and the cause of death hasn't been made public.

"There's a lot of people upset about it," said Dennis Thomas, 33, who works at Abe's Barbeque.

"Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town," Thomas said.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute tweeted:

The sheriff's department has not released a possible motive for the crime.

Campaign spokesman Jarod Keith has said McMillian's campaign was noteworthy because he may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in Mississippi.

McMillian, who was black, had forged ties while serving for four years as international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Photos on McMillian's website and Facebook page show him with a younger Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.

McMillian was CEO of MWM & Associates, described on its website as a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. In addition to his role at the fraternity from 2007 to 2011, McMillian had previously worked to raise funds as executive assistant to the president at Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University, according to his campaign.

A statement from the fraternity said he had secured the first federal contract to raise awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on communities of color. It noted that Ebony Magazine had recognized him in 2004 as one of the nation's "30 up-and-coming African Americans" under age 30.

Supporters say McMillian — a 1997 graduate of Clarksdale High School who graduated magna cum laude from Jackson State and held a master's degree from St. Mary's University in Minnesota in philanthropy and development — had big ideas for Clarksdale, a town of about 17,800 people.

The town is well known to blues fans as the home of the crossroads, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil for skills with a guitar. Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman is part owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in town. Clarksdale also is hounded by the poverty typical of the Mississippi Delta.

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