Grand Jury Will Not Indict Women who Accused Emmett Till

A Mississippi grand jury has declined to indict the women whose accusation set off the lynching of Emmett Till. Most likely known as the case that shocked the nation and sparked the civil rights movement, this case is officially being closed after over 70 years of investigation.

Just shy of last week, Leflore County grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter after hearing seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, says Dewyyane Richardson, the Leflore County District Attorney.

The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr, Emmett Till’s cousin and the last living witness to Till’s abduction on August 28, 1955, said Tuesday’s announcement is “unfortunate, but predictable.”

“The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-black systems that guaranteed whose who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished to this day,” Parker continues, “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 had discovered the unserved arrest warrant charging Donham, then-husband Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law J.W. Milam in Till’s abduction in 1955. Donham was never taken into custody despite the men being arrested and later acquitted on murder charges.

In 2004, the U.S. The Department of Justice Department opened an investigation of Till’s killing after it had received inquiries about where the charges could be brought against anyone still living. In 2005, an autopsy found that Till had died from a gunshot wound to the head and that he had fractures in his wrist bones, skull, and femur. 

In 2006, the FBI revealed its Cold Case Initiative in an effort to identify and investigate racially motivated murders. Congress later passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act two years later.

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