Was a Gay Mayoral Candidate's Mississippi Murder a Romantic Tryst Gone Awry?S

Ever since 22-year-old Lawrence Reed, pictured at left, was found driving—and subsequently crashing—33-year-old Marco McMillian's SUV on a highway in Tennessee last week, news outlets have been trying to piece together exactly how the two men knew each other. McMillian, an openly gay candidate for mayor in Clarksdale, Mississippi, was found dead near the Mississippi River after Reed pointed police to his body, prompting many to immediately presume McMillian's death was a hate crime (a black gay man being murdered by bigots in Mississippi wouldn't be much of a stretch). Yet as more details emerge, McMillian's killing seems to be less about a targeted hate attack and more about a relationship that soured.

An article from the Jackson-based Clarion-Ledger reports that while people close to both Reed and McMillian agree the men met and became friendly at a bar in Clarksdale, the stories differ from there. Some people believe the two men were just friends, while others claim they were romantically involved.

Friends of Reed told Memphis television station WPTY that the two recently had met at a Clarksdale bar and became close. Then, sometime either late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, McMillian made sexual advances on Reed, the friends said, adding that Reed is straight.

The Clarion-Ledger couldn't reach Reed's friends, but it's also the version of events investigators were told. After being hit on, Reed allegedly snapped, strangled McMillian, then drove McMillian's SUV to the levee west of Clarksdale and tossed his body near the river.

Friends of McMillian, however, say the two men were romantically involved and quarreled immediately before the slaying.

"They were having an affair,” said 18-year-old Carlos Jones. "They got to tussling."

So far there has been no official motive granted by the authorities. Reed, who is black, has been charged with murdering McMillian, but the Coahoma County Sheriff's Department says it "isn't exploring [a hate crime charge]," which goes against McMillian's family's wishes. Even if Reed did kill McMillian in a homophobic rage, Mississippi's hate crime legislation does not have an inclusion for sexual orientation, saying that a hate crime is only a crime committed "because of the actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender of the victim." The federal definition of a hate crime adds disabilities and sexual orientation to that list.

[Image via AP]