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Civil rights group seeks federal probe of killing of Mississippi politician

Lawrence Reed, 22, of Shelby, Mississippi is pictured in this booking photo courtesy of the Coahoma County Sheriff's Office. REUTERS/Coahoma
Lawrence Reed, 22, of Shelby, Mississippi is pictured in this booking photo courtesy of the Coahoma County Sheriff's Office. REUTERS/Coahoma

By Emily Le Coz

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - A congressman and a national civil rights group asked the federal government on Tuesday to investigate the killing of a gay, black Mississippi mayoral candidate.

The family of Marco McMillian, who had returned to his hometown of Clarksdale to run for office as a Democrat, said he was beaten, dragged and set on fire before his body was dumped near the Mississippi River.

McMillian was one of the first viable openly gay candidates to run for public office in Mississippi, according to the Victory Fund, a national organization that supports homosexual candidates.

Law enforcement officials arrested Lawrence Reed, 22, who is also black, and charged him with murder. Police have released few details about the case or possible motive. They have said the killing was not being treated as a hate crime.

U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in a statement that he wants the FBI to "review the circumstances and evidence of this case to determine whether a violation of federal law has occurred and provide any necessary assistance to local and state law enforcement officials."

Thompson represents the impoverished Delta region where McMillian had sought elected office. His statement came hours after the National Black Justice Coalition made a similar request to the U.S. Justice Department.

"If there is the possibility that McMillian was murdered because of who he is, that warrants the Department of Justice's involvement," the coalition said in a statement.

McMillian's family has said it does not believe the 33-year-old was the victim of a random act of violence, based on the gruesome details surrounding his death.

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith declined to comment. The Justice Department and the FBI did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

McMillian had been missing since February 26. His sport utility vehicle was involved in a head-on collision in Coahoma County, but McMillian was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident. His body was found the following day.

McMillian had faced state Representative Chuck Espy, a Democrat, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett and two other candidates.

McMillian's campaign focused on reducing crime and unemployment in Clarksdale, a city of roughly 18,000 people, campaign spokesman Jarod Keith said. A once-booming agricultural community, the city has steadily bled residents and jobs over the years and faces high levels of violence and unemployment.

Another Democratic candidate for mayor, Doris Haynes Miller, said she recently was robbed at gunpoint in the town.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)

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