A Mississippi grand jury refused to convict a white woman Whose accusation? set out the death of black teenager Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago, would most likely close the case that shocked an entire nation and spawned the modern civil rights movement.
After more than seven hours of hearing testimony from investigators and witnesses, a Leflore County grand jury last week determined there was not enough evidence to charge Carolyn Bryant Donham with kidnapping and manslaughter, Leflore County District Attorney said. Dewayne Richardson said in a statement Tuesday.
The decision was made one month after arrest warrant not stored from the time of the crime was found in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse for Donham, her husband Roy Bryant and half-brother JW Milam.
#EmmettTilla 14-year-old was murdered 67 years ago, on August 28, 1955. He was kidnapped, brutally tortured, and imprisoned in a racially motivated hate crime that ultimately helped modern day start #civilrightsmovement. Say his name! His legacy will live on! pic.twitter.com/Lwpj6GQNwL
– EmmettTillLegacyFdn (@EmmettTill) August 9, 2022
The two men – both deceased – were arrested and acquitted of murder by an all-white jury, but Donham, then 21, was never taken into custody.
Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., Emmett Till’s cousin and last living witness to Till’s August 28, 1955 abduction, said Tuesday’s announcement was “regrettable, but predictable”.
“The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years. anti-black system That ensures those who killed Emmett Till go unpunished, to this day,” Parker said in a statement.
“The reality remains that those who abducted, tortured, and murdered Emmett explicitly did so, and our American justice system has been and continues to be set up in such a way that they cannot be prosecuted. bring justice for their heinous crimes. “
Ollie Gordon, another cousin of Till, told the Associated Press news agency that some Justice was served in the Till case, regardless of the jury’s decision.
“Justice doesn’t always lock someone up and throw the key away,” Gordon said. “Miss Donham hasn’t gone to jail yet. But in many ways, I don’t think she has a pleasant life. I think every day she wakes up, she has to face the atrocities that have come her way.”
An email and voicemail seeking comment from Donham’s son Tom Bryant was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he and several other children went to the shop in the town of Money where Carolyn Bryant worked. Relatives told the AP that Till whistled at the white woman, but denied he touched her.
In one unpublished memoirs As reported by the AP last month, Donham said Milam and her husband brought Till to her in the middle of the night for identification but she tried to help the young man by denying it was him. She claims that Till then volunteered that he was the one they were looking for.
Till’s disfigured, bruised body was found a few days later in a river, where it was pinned down with a heavy metal fan. The decision by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to open Till’s coffin for his funeral in Chicago demonstrated horror at what had happened and fueled the civil rights movement.
After their acquittal, Bryant and Milam admitted to the kidnapping and murder in an interview with Look magazine. They were not charged federally, and both are long dead.
In 2004, the Justice Department reopened the investigation but was unable to bring any charges due to the statute of limitations.
Till’s body was exhumed, in part to confirm it was him. An autopsy in 2005 revealed that Till died of a gunshot wound to the head and suffered broken wrists, skull and femur.
In 2006, the FBI launched the Cold Cases Initiative in an effort to identify and investigate racial homicides. Two years later, Congress passed the Emmett Unresolved Civil Rights Crime Act.
The Justice Department said the statute of limitations has expired for any potential federal crimes, but the FBI has been working with state investigators to determine if state charges can be brought. In February 2007, a grand jury in Mississippi refused to convict anyone, and the Justice Department announced that it would close the case.
In 2017, the author of a book on the case said Donham confessed that Till never made any progress. The Justice Department reopened the case again, but investigators were unable to determine whether she fabricated the case and the investigation was closed in December 2021, saying “insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI.”
Timothy Tyson, the North Carolina historian who interviewed Donham for his 2017 book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” said the newly discovered subpoena does nothing to “significantly change the concrete evidence.” against her”. But he said the new focus on the case will “force Americans” to confront the racial and economic disparities that persist here.
“The Till case will not go away because the racism and ruthless indifference that created it remain with us,” Tyson wrote in an email Tuesday. “We see generations of black children struggling against these obstacles, and many dying from systemic racism, which can be as deadly as a rope or a pistol. “
For Gordon, the renewed attention on the Till case is a reminder of the social progress it has helped lead.
“It helps younger generations determine how far we have come with the many freedoms and civil rights we have achieved since Emmett died,” says Gordon. “As his mother would say, his death was not in vain.”
In March, a new law called Till went into effect, making racial discrimination a federal crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.