By Monica Land
CLARKSDALE – Nearly three months after the battered body of Clarksdale, Miss., mayoral candidate Marco Watson McMillian was found dumped in a field, his parents have partnered with Daryl Parks, the Florida-based civil rights attorney in the Trayvon Martin case.
On Feb. 27, Marco’s naked body was found on a levee near the Mississippi River between the towns of Sherard and Rena Lara, Miss. – some 25 miles from Clarksdale. Autopsy reports released this month revealed that the 33-year-old had been strangled, beaten, set on fire and dragged.
Desperately seeking answers, Marco’s parents, Amos and Patricia Unger, held a press conference at their home in Clarksdale this month, hoping to uncover the events leading up to their son’s death and to determine: If the suspect in custody acted alone; if Marco’s death was a hate crime because he was gay or if his death was politically motivated because he was running for mayor.
“…We are asking for the justice department to get involved in this investigation,” Parks said during the press conference. “It becomes clear that Marco McMillian was tortured by someone and we don’t believe this one person did it alone.”
“If [Reed] acted alone, even if he was the killer, why are so many people in the community in fear,” Lettman-Hicks told thegrio.com. “Why are you in fear if this is an isolated situation? There is a lack of willingness in general in the community to provide information and they have used the term, ‘We’re afraid.’ Afraid of what? So this makes us have the assumption that there may be a political motive behind his death instead of this fabricated ‘relationship gone bad’ that seems to be the general norm of speculation.”
Local authorities have 22-year-old Lawrence Reed in custody and he has allegedly confessed to the crime saying sexual advances from the slain politician caused him – a heterosexual – to “snap.”
Reed allegedly confessed that he choked Marco with a wallet chain.
“There is no way we can accept the gentleman’s little explanation of, ‘Hey, I strangled him.’ Well, where are the choke marks on the neck? There’s a lot more to it,” Parks said.
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, is also working with the family.
“There are no marks on the neck or the throat in the autopsy report,” Lettman-Hick said. “And the autopsy report makes a particular statement that there are no marks on the neck or the throat. So somebody’s lying.”
The autopsy report said Marco had blunt force trauma to the head, back and legs consistent with a beating and hemorrhaging in his right eye which evidenced his cause of death as “asphyxia of undetermined etiology”.
The report further said it was unclear if the second and third degree burns found all over Marco’s body were inflicted before or after his death.
Scotty Meredith, the Coahoma County coroner, said he was so troubled by the report and the length of time it took for the medical examiner to release the report, that he refused to sign the death certificate.
“It’s very unusual,” Meredith said.
“[Marco] was bruised over his body and he was suffocated,” Lettman-Hicks said. “So how does that happen…by one person who is smaller than him…and the facts that we know so far are not adding up. Why aren’t they looking into whether the person who said he killed him actually killed him and he’s not being the scapegoat for someone else?”
A graduate of Jackson State University, Marco was CEO of MWM & Associates, a professional consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. He announced his candidacy for mayor in January 2013.
Marco expressed his desire to change Clarksdale by posting on his Facebook page: “This race to City Hall is about Our Children. Our Citizens. Our Concern. Our CLARKSDALE” he said, and “..We are the change we seek…I am going to truly need you[r] help to transform Clarksdale so all people will have a quality of life…Please keep me lifted in prayer” Marco said in another post.
The election was held on May 7, and Lettman-Hicks said authorities “conveniently” waited until after the mayor’s race to release information about Marco’s death. She said Marco’s death “should not be a political football.”
Friends told ABC24, that Marco and Reed met a few weeks prior to Marco’s death at a local club in Clarksdale. The two had some drinks and reportedly became “fast friends.”
They were reportedly planning to go to a party together on Feb. 25, when Marco allegedly drove Reed to an area Reed was not familiar with. Reed was from Shelby, Miss., and had recently moved to Clarksdale.
At 8:30 a.m. the next morning, Reed had an accident in Marco’s car.
The following morning, Marco was found dead.
While colleagues said Marco was “openly gay”, his mother reportedly told CNN that her son “did not announce in public that he was gay” when it came to his run for political office.
Friends of Reed said he was straight. In fact, he reportedly called his girlfriend the last night he and Marco were allegedly together.
Marco’s autopsy report, however, showed the presence of semen on his body.
“If in fact, under the assumption of the friends and family of the suspect, that he panicked because unwanted advances were put on him…why aren’t they looking into this potentially as being a hate crime?” Lettman-Hicks said. “Gay panic is a hate crime. Women get unwanted advances from men all the time, but we don’t turn around and kill them. How did it escalate to a point that it turned into torture? It just doesn’t add up.”
Marco’s family has asked for a federal investigation because of frustration with the local investigation and also because, unlike federal law, Mississippi’s hate crime statute does not cover sexual orientation, The New York Times said.
“Because of the level of hate that was involved in the level of torture that was found on Marco, we are not going to let this be relegated to some sort of self- defense case,” Lettman-Hicks said.
In a letter to Coahoma County’s sheriff Charles Jones dated May 1, Patricia Unger cited several concerns in regard to how her son’s case was being handled. She noted a lack of professionalism and information stating: Jones had only been to see her twice since her son was murdered; the improper removal of her son’s belongings and the manner in which she was made to identify her son‘s body.
“They were given a cellphone to identify their deceased child in a body bag,” Lettman-Hicks said. “In a little tiny town like that, they didn’t have the decency to send the sheriff’s car over to pick up the family to bring them to the morgue to identify their only child. Once the body was turned over to the funeral home they were able to prepare it for burial. But in terms of identification to see what his original state was and to deal with the sanctity and respect to the family of finding their loved one who was reported missing, deceased, there was absolutely no compassion.”
Funeral services for McMillian were on March 9.
Unger said Marco’s vehicle was moved to a private location following the accident without her consent and notification. She had to retrieve the contents of the vehicle, including a set of keys to her home, from the tow service.
“Again, where is the decency?” Lettman-Hicks asked. “We black folks. We don’t operate like this especially in a little country town. This is a local community and this young man was running for mayor. This is a high profile case. Where is just the human dignity? Where is the cardboard box? Or the Ziploc bag with his belongings being brought back to a grieving mother’s home, and the conversation, explanation or expression of grief and condolence and respect for a mother for her only child? Where’s the southern hospitality? I can’t even get beyond that. I mean, there isn’t anything illegal about that. But it is quite inhumane.”
Unger said in her letter that she had to ask the tow company for her son’s belongings. When asking about a certain item, one of the employees gave her a “surprised” look “and went in the office to retrieve the items.
“Was the tow company just helping themselves to his belongings?” Lettman-Hicks said. “If you’re going to return all my stuff, then give me my stuff. Don’t go in the back room and say, ‘Oh. Here it is.’ Why isn’t it together? Why isn’t it sealed up? Why isn’t it in an investigation bag? This is a murder scene. This is a crime scene. What if even Reed’s people want to defend him? Where’s the security of the evidence? Reed is the one that drove off in the car.”
Lettman-Hicks further said the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department failed to disclose information to Marco’s family for fear they would leak the information to the news media.
“Are you kidding me? They’re the victims just as much as their deceased son,” she said. “We just want a proper investigation and we feel there is not enough objectivity in how law enforcement is pursuing this as more than what some are calling a domestic violence case.”
Will Rooker, public information officer for the sheriff’s department said, however, they were trying to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
“We are preparing everything we need to to get this ready for trial,” Rooker said. “This has been a multi-agency task to put this [case] together and we have a man in custody and we have charged him with the murder of Mr. McMillian.”
Rooker said he would not comment as to the allegations of the Unger family.
Lettman-Hicks said Marco’s parents have questioned the thoroughness of the investigation because they have yet to be interviewed by any law enforcement agency in regard to this case.
“Marco lived with his family,” she said. “They have never come to the house to investigate anything, his computer, nothing. What was he doing leading up to his death? What was the condition of his household? Where is the investigation? These are the questions that [Parks] and the family have in terms of the level of investigation that’s representative of a murder.
To me, they’re trying to blame the victim and trying to find anything to cast dispersion on his character. Marco McMillian had a tox[icology] screen after his death. Is there a tox screen report on the person who is in jail? I don’t understand that the person who is living claims to be the killer and we can’t get any information from him. I don’t want to see another story on black on black crime and all of sudden one’s in jail and one’s dead. Who cares? This is just unacceptable.”
Lettman-Hicks said this is why she acquired Parks and Crump to assist on this case.
“I have a 20-year history with them and we wanted some attorneys that were aggressive enough…civil rights minded and social justice minded that they were going to move law enforcement and legal processes for the family to get some answers. Lawyers are for justice. Not only for a paycheck and that’s where we are right now. Trying to get justice for Marco.”