The FBI is getting involved in the murder investigation of Marco McMillian, a gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi who was murdered last week.
The agency 'will assess evidence to determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate,' Deborah Madden, an FBI public affairs specialist, tells USA Today.
A 22-year-old man named Lawrence Reedhas been charged with McMillian's murder. The victim's family says McMillian was beaten, dragged and set afire.
It is the FBI that could potentially bring hate crime charges to the case if it is determined that the murder was motivated by the fact that the victim was gay.
The state's hate crime law covers race, religion and gender but not sexual orientation. But the federal Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act does cover homosexuality and local and state agencies can seek assistance to pursue such charges.
McMillian's body was found last week near a river levee in the Mississippi Delta. The 34 year old was running for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
A motive in the murder has not officially been disclosed.
But USA Today reports that sources close to the investigation say Reed may be claiming that it was triggered when McMillian allegedly made unwanted sexual advances toward him. This could result in a so-called 'gay panic' defense in court which has been used successfully in past cases.
There is also a theory that the murder might have been politically motivated, according to the newspaper.