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Slain Mississippi candidate was beaten and burned, his family says

By Emily Le Coz

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - A gay, black mayoral candidate killed last week in Mississippi was beaten, dragged and set on fire before his body was dumped near a river, according to his family.

In a statement issued late on Sunday, the family of Marco McMillian said a coroner who performed an autopsy on his body told them about the gruesome manner of death.

"We feel this was not a random act of violence based on the condition of the body when it was found," the McMillian family said. "Marco, nor anyone, should have their lives end in this manner."

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith declined to comment on the family's statement that McMillian was beaten and burned.

The body of McMillian, a 33-year-old candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, was found on Wednesday. A day later, law enforcement officials arrested a 22-year-old man, Lawrence Reed, who is also black, and charged him with murder in connection with the case.

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

Autopsy results are not expected to be released until toxicology tests are complete, which could take two or three weeks, Meredith said.

The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department, which is leading the investigation, has released few details about the killing or a possible motive. Law enforcement officials say the killing is not being treated as a hate crime.

McMillian had been missing since February 25 when his sport-utility vehicle was involved in a head-on collision in a rural part of Coahoma County in the Mississippi Delta. McMillian was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident.

McMillian recently moved from Memphis back to his hometown of Clarksdale to run for mayor as a Democrat. He had faced state Representative Chuck Espy, a Democrat, and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett, an attorney, along with two other candidates.

McMillian's campaign focused on reducing crime and unemployment in Clarksdale, a city of roughly 18,000 people, said campaign spokesman Jarod Keith.

A once-booming agricultural community, the city has steadily bled residents and jobs over the years and now 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 Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay)

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