A Mississippi man on Thursday was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury found him guilty of murder in the 2013 slaying of an openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale.
Jurors in Quitman County deliberated less than two hours before convicting Lawrence Reed, 24.
Reed testified that he strangled Marco McMillian, but said he did so because he feared McMillian was trying to rape him.
"I'm sorry for what happened, but I can't take it back," Reed told Circuit Court Judge Charles Webster on Thursday, according to the Clarksdale Press-Register .
Carter D. Womack, McMillian's godfather, said the family believes justice was served.
"The evidence showed that the murder was unjust ... and it deprived us all for the hard work Marco could have done for the city as mayor as well as for the nation," Womack said.
Prosecutors argued that Reed acted with premeditation, noting Reed dragged McMillian into a water-filled ditch after strangling him. Reed told jurors he sought to revive McMillian, but told an investigator in a recorded interview that he did so because McMillian still appeared alive.
Reed dumped McMillian's body near a Mississippi River levee and tried to burn it.
Reed testified Wednesday as the only witness in his own defense, but prosecutors presented evidence contradicting key parts of his story.
Reed said he blacked out before from fear and anger over McMillian's sexual advances after McMillian drove the pair to a secluded road in Quitman County instead of taking Reed to a party. The defendant said he wanted to escape McMillian, who was looking at pornography on his cellphone and asking Reed questions about how he liked women. Reed said McMillian locked the car door and reached out to stop Reed from leaving moments before Reed strangled him with his wallet chain.
"I don't know where or how I grabbed the chain," Reed testified. "My intent was just to hit him."
Reed explained bruises on McMillian's body by saying when he opened the door of McMillian's Chevy Tahoe, the candidate's body hit the pavement. Reed said he was trying to wake McMillian when Reed dragged him into a water-filled ditch.
Reed also claimed he didn't initially plan to try to burn McMillian's body, saying he bought 94 cents' worth of gasoline to burn McMillian's cellphone, fearing authorities would track the phone to find him.
Quitman County District Attorney Brenda Mitchell also asked Reed why he dumped McMillian's body.
"I didn't know where else to take him or put him," Reed said. "I wasn't going to leave him in the truck."
Mitchell said Reed's testimony contradicted accounts given by a Coahoma County sheriff's deputy and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Agent Brian Sullivant. After Reed left the stand Wednesday, prosecutors played a recording of Reed telling Sullivant that he dragged McMillian to the ditch to drown him because McMillian still appeared to be alive after Reed strangled him.
"He wasn't moving. He was fidgeting a little bit," Reed told Sullivant on the recording. "He was jerking a little bit. ... I think, I need to push him into the ditch before he wakes up..."