The agency is stepping in after being urged by both Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the National Black Justice Coalition on Tuesday to seek potential hate crime charges.
Public affairs specialist Deborah Madden told USA Today that the FBI “will assess evidence to determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate.”
22-year-old Lawrence Reed was charged with the murder of McMillian last week and may have had an intimate relationship with his victim before allegedly “snapping” and killing him in a so-called “gay panic.” Though other theories claim that McMillian’s death may have been politically motivated.
While Mississippi’s hate crimes law does not cover sexual orientation, local and state agencies could pursue a federal hate crime under the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It may prove difficult to charge Reed with a hate crime, however, since it is “difficult to disentangle the various threads of someone’s motive,” senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center Mark Potok told USA Today.
Mississippi usually reports the least number of hate crimes per state; it reported only one in 2011, while none were reported between 2005 and 2007. By comparison, Massachusetts reported 346 hate crimes in 2011, but that doesn’t mean there are more hate crimes in Massachusetts than in Mississippi — obviously — but simply that more of them were reported to the FBI.
McMillian’s family wants his murder investigated as a hate crime and according to his godfather, Carter Womack, “What’s been reported is not the true story of what happened to him.”