Mississippi mayoral candidate's death eyed as murder

Jan. 20, 2007: Marco McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., is shown.

Jan. 20, 2007: Marco McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., is shown.  (AP)

The death of a Mississippi mayoral candidate who was found on a river levee Wednesday is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said.

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said the body of 34-year-old Marco McMillian was found on the Mississippi River levee Wednesday at about 10 a.m. reports that the sheriff's office said it had a person of interest in custody. The individual had not been charged as of late Wednesday night, according to a post on the department's Facebook page.

The department also said authorities had been looking for McMillian since a man crashed the candidate's car into another vehicle on Tuesday. McMillian was not in the car. The sheriff's office said deputies responded to the two-car crash on U.S. Highway 49 South near the Coahoma and Tallahatchie county lines on Tuesday about 8 a.m.

The department could not confirm or deny to if the individual in custody was the same person who crashed McMillian's car.

The 34-year-old McMillian was running for mayor of Clarksdale, a Blues hub where actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman co-owns a music club with Howard Stovall, a Memphis entertainment executive, and Bill Luckett, who also is running for mayor.

Meredith said the body was found between Sherard and Rena Lara and was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. He declined to provide further details or speculate on the cause of death.

McMillian was a Democrat. Campaign spokesman Jarod Keith 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.

Clarksdale, a town of about 17,800 people, 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.

The town is also home to Ground Zero Blues Club, of which Freeman, an Academy Award winning actor, is part owner.

Dennis Thomas, 33, who works at Abe's Barbeque, said McMillian's death has been the talk of the town.

"There's a lot of people upset about it. Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town. He's been in the community helping out a lot," Thomas said.

McMillian was hoping to win the office being vacated by Mayor Henry Espy Jr., the brother of Mike Espy, a former congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary. Henry Espy decided not to seek re-election after more than two decades in office. Espy's son, state Rep. Chuck Espy, and Luckett were among the other well-known candidates in the race.

McMillian's campaign said in a statement that words cannot describe "our grief at the loss of our dear friend."

"We remember Marco as a bold and passionate public servant, whose faith informed every aspect of his life," the statement said.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute tweeted: "Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly (hash)LGBT candidates in Mississippi."

McMillian was CEO of MWM & Associates, described on its website as a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. He had recently served as international executive director of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

Jimmy Hammock, the fraternity's international president, praised McMillian in a Facebook post for making "an incredible difference in his community and in Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity."

A statement from the historically black fraternity said he had secured the first federal contract to "raise the awareness of the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color for the Fraternity." 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.

McMillian also worked at Alabama A&M University and Jackson State University in the past. Photos on McMillian's website show him with a younger Barack Obama and with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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