Grand Jury Will Not Indict Woman Whose Accusations Led To The Murder of Emmett Till

A Mississippi grand jury will not indict the white woman who accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of making advances toward her nearly 70 years ago, CNN reports. Those allegations led to the brutal murder of the Black teenager. 

A Leflore County grand jury heard seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses last week but decided there was not enough evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, according to a statement from District Attorney Dewayne Richardson.

The grand jury reportedly heard testimony from witnesses detailing the investigation of the case from 2004 to the present and considered both charges.

“After hearing every aspect of the investigation and evidence collected regarding Donham’s involvement, the Grand Jury returned a ‘No Bill’ to the charges of both Kidnapping and Manslaughter,” the statement said. “The murder of Emmett Till remains an unforgettable tragedy in this country, and the thoughts and prayers of this nation continue to be with the family of Emmett Till.”

Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., condemned the decision in a statement to CBS News. 

“The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-Black systems that guaranteed those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished, to this day,” Parker said. “The fact remains that the people who abducted, tortured, and murdered Emmett did so in plain sight, and our American justice system was and continues to be set up in such a way that they could not be brought to justice for their heinous crimes.” 

 In June, a group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse found an unsealed arrest warrant accusing Donham, her then-husband Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law J.W. Milam of Till’s kidnapping in 1955, CBS News reports. The men were arrested and acquitted on murder charges in the killing of Till. Donham, who is now 87, was never arrested. 

According to Donham’s unpublished memoir, she said she had no idea what would happen to 14-year-old Till, who lived in Chicago and was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was abducted and killed. She accused him of making lewd remarks and grabbing her while she was working alone at a family business in Money, Mississippi.

According to Donham’s manuscript, the men brought Till to her in the middle of the night to identify him, but she claimed she tried to help the young man by denying it was him. 

Days later, Till’s battered, disfigured body was discovered in a river, weighted down by a heavy metal fan. Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to open Till’s casket for his funeral in Chicago showed the horror of what occurred and fueled the civil rights movement.

“No family should ever have to endure this pain for this long,” Parker told CBS News in a statement. “Going forward, we must keep the details, and memory, of the brutal murder of Emmett Till, and the courage of Mamie Mobley, alive, so that we can reduce racial violence, improve our system of justice, and treat each other with the dignity and respect with which Mrs. Mobley graced us all.”

The Justice Department, which had previously re-examined and closed the case in 2007, reopened the investigation into Emmett’s death in 2018. However, the case was closed in December after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division determined that it could not prove that Donham had lied. 

In March, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime.

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