The family of the man charged with killing Marco McMillilan, a gay mayoral candidate in Clarksdale, Miss., told a local news station that McMillian tried to assault the suspect and that he killed McMillian in self-defense.
On March 1 the Coahoma County Sheriff's Department charged Lawrence Reed, 22, of Shelby, Miss., in the death of McMillian, 34, whose body was found beaten and burned February 27, just one day after Reed crashed McMillian's white SUV in a head-on collision.
Now Reed's friends and family are turning to the tried-and-true "gay panic" defense, saying McMillian was making unwanted advances toward Reed, which caused him to panic and kill the candidate.
Reed's sister, who asked not to be identified because of "small-town politics," told Mississippi's ABC24 that she received a panicked phone call from her brother just before he arrived at her house.
"Just after midnight on February 26, their youngest sister received a panicked call from Reed," reports ABC24. "One sister says, 'He called at 12:11 a.m. and he told her that the dude [McMillian] was trying to rape him. He was exposing himself to him, playing with himself, telling him to do things and then he'll take him home.'
"He told the girl he was on a back road and couldn't get away. A few minutes later a bruised, bloody and broken Reed showed up at their back porch. 'He just looked like he had been through war…' one sister describes.
"She says when Reed couldn't get away from McMillian, he used the chain on his wallet to choke the 200-pound politician. 'He was shaking real hard, he was crying real hard, he was circling, begging for somebody to talk to him.'"
Just days after McMillian's body was discovered, Reed's roommate, Kamillia Evans, told ABC24, "If he did do it, he was defending himself."
McMillian's family said they want his death to be investigated as a hate crime, due to the nature of the incident. However, the Coahoma County Sheriff's Department said they would not explore the option, Jackson's Clarion-Ledger newspaper reports. Mississippi does not have hate-crimes legislation that covers crimes based on sexual orientation.
In response, the FBI stepped in to investigate the candidate's death and consider whether Reed could be charged under federal hate-crimes laws such as the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
McMillian was one of four Democrats seeking the Clarksdale mayoral nomination and "was considered one of the first viable openly gay office-seekers in the state," USA Today notes.