McMillian's body had been dragged under the fence.
Meredith saw a naked man with a burn the size of a half-dollar on his left hand. He had a few blisters, cuts and bruises here and there, and his right eye was swollen.
Meredith bagged McMillian's hands and feet to protect them in case they turned up evidence and put him in a body bag. He took out his cell phone and clicked a picture before sending the body away to Jackson for a state medical examiner to conduct an autopsy.
Then, Meredith went to see Unger at her home.
"I told the sheriff that his mom needs to know about her son -- doesn't matter whether he's 3 or 33."
He took out his phone and showed Unger the photo.
"That is my son," she told him.
He did not believe that McMillian was beaten to death but thought he had been dragged from the car, maybe 20, 30, 40 yards. He told Unger it looked like it may have been difficult for one person to have done that.
Unger felt frustrated. The sheriff had not come to the house. No one wanted to see McMillian's things, his laptop. Wasn't that a part of any murder investigation? Nor had anyone from the victim assistance office contacted her.
Three days after the body was recovered, McMillian's family released a statement based on their interpretation of what Meredith had told them. They believed McMillian had been tortured before he was killed.
They also believed Reed had not acted alone. McMillian weighed 220 pounds. Reed is a small guy. There was no way, they thought, that Reed could have done this by himself.
"We feel this was not a random act of violence based on the condition of the body when it was found," they said. "Marco, nor anyone, should have their lives end in this manner."
By the time McMillian's funeral was held March 9, many news reports had cast the murder as a hate crime. The family suspected it was a conspiracy of sorts. An autopsy was performed the day after he was found, but it would take six weeks for its release.
The National Black Justice Coalition, whose aim is to empower black LGBT people, said McMillian's death and the "ongoing investigation highlighted the complexity of life for openly gay black men in Mississippi."
McMillian's body lay in a blue casket, his face and body disfigured. The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper said he resembled Emmett Till.
The service was tearful. Unger felt faint after seeing her son's body and had to be helped to her seat. Civil rights activist and Georgia Rep. John Lewis told the crowd that Marco would live on through the good he had done his community.
As days turned to weeks with no word from authorities, Unger's frustration turned to anger.
Autopsy raises more questions
Finally, on May 1, Mississippi Chief Medical Examiner Mark LeVaughn signed and released McMillian's autopsy report.
The conclusion: He had died of asphyxiation. Multiple areas of blunt trauma to the head that are consistent with a beating most likely contributed to his death. It could not be determined whether he was burned before or after his death, but a chart showed burns on McMillian's calves, back, right arm and left hand. The abrasions on his knee were consistent with a "drag type" injury.
The report listed details about blood vessels bursting in McMillian's right eye and said he had bit his tongue. Everything suggested that McMillian had met with a grisly end.
But the autopsy raised more questions. How did he choke to death? There were no marks around his neck.
Meredith, the coroner, refused to sign the autopsy, the first time he'd done that in 24 years on the job.
He disagreed with its findings: What the medical examiner said didn't match what he had seen that day at the levee. He thought the autopsy made McMillian's injuries far more serious than what he observed.
"I am not comfortable putting my name on it," he said. "It's my reputation."
He said the family wants to believe it was a hate crime, that he was targeted because of race or sexual orientation. But in Meredith's mind, it wasn't.
"If it were my child, I'd want it to be on the national news. But it is what it is."
The friend whom Reed visited after McMillian was killed also believes it was meeting between two men that went terribly wrong. She said Reed was trying to defend himself against rape, that there were two victims that night.
"Everything is not based on race," said the friend, who -- like Reed -- is black. "I feel for his family, but we don't know what happened that night. None of us were there."
Shortly after the autopsy was released, McMillian's family held a news conference and demanded a federal investigation. Unger wrote a letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, asking him to look into the killing of her son.
"When you hear that a man has been beaten, dragged and burned, what's the first thing that comes to your mind, regardless of the fact that we are living in the 21st century?" Unger wrote. "Even though most newspapers are reporting the murder as an 'openly gay mayoral candidate found dead,' further investigation is needed."
In her letter, Unger described her son's warnings that people were out to get him. The Justice Department has encouraged others in the community to send in their concerns.
McMillian's death made national headlines. The media descended on Clarksdale to write about the murder of a gay black man in a backward Delta town, coverage that rankled some residents.
"I think we're getting a black eye because we're the Mississippi Delta," Meredith said.
Through it all, the mayoral race continued with a runoff and an election on June 4. Luckett, the winner, agreed that his city was getting a bad rap.
"The thinking is if you're black and you're gay and you're running for mayor, then some redneck is going to get you," he said, sitting inside the restaurant and music venue that he co-owns with actor Morgan Freeman, the Ground Zero Blues Club.
"He wasn't killed because he was black. He wasn't killed because he was gay. It's just a tragic but bizarre set of facts," he said.
Luckett, a millionaire lawyer and businessman, was born and raised in Clarksdale. He speaks with Southern swagger and draws an unmistakable silhouette with his thick, combed-back hair and portly frame. He takes great pride in showing off Ground Zero and the apartments for rent above it and believes that investments like that can help turn Clarksdale around from decay to renewal.
Luckett made a run for governor of Mississippi -- as a Democrat -- and lost. McMillian's supporters said Luckett eyed the mayor's job so he could try again for governor with a feather in his cap -- to be able to say that he was the one who turned things around in his hometown.
McMillian, said his supporters, had momentum and had a real good chance of winning. Without him in the race, Luckett's victory was a landslide.