Grand jury refuses to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose accusation sparked the lynching of Emmett Till

A Mississippi grand jury refused to indict the white woman whose accusation sparked the lynching of a black teenager Issue up tol nearly 70 years ago, despite revelations about an unserved arrest warrant and an unpublished memoir by the woman, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

After hearing more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, a Leflore County grand jury determined last week that there was insufficient evidence to charge Caroline Bryant Donham for kidnapping and manslaughter.

It is now increasingly unlikely that Donham, who is now over 80, will ever be prosecuted for her role in the events leading up to Till’s lynching.

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In this combined file photo, John W. Milam, 35, left, his half-brother Roy Bryant, 24, center, who has been charged with the murder of Emmett Till of Chicago, Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, is seen at right.


Till’s cousin, the Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., condemned the decision as “unfortunate but predictable” in a statement to CBS News.

“The prosecutor did his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-Black systems that ensured that those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished to this day,” he said. Parker said in the statement. “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.”

An email and voicemail requesting comment from Donham’s son, Tom Bryant, was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

A group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse in June discovered the unissued arrest warrant charging Donham, her then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law JW Milam during the kidnapping of Till in 1955. While the men were arrested and acquitted of murder charges in Till’s subsequent murder, Donham, 21 at the time and 87 now, was never arrested.

A photo of Emmett Till is included on the plaque that marks his grave at Burr Oak Cemetery May 4, 2005 in Aslip, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

In an unpublished memoir obtained last month by The Associated Press, Donham said she was unaware of what would happen to Till, 14, who lived in Chicago and was visiting relatives in Mississippi. when he was kidnapped, killed and thrown into a river. She accused him of making lewd comments and catching her working alone at a family store in Money, Mississippi.

Donham said in the manuscript that the men brought Till to her in the middle of the night for identification, but she tried to help the youth by denying it was him. Despite being abducted at gunpoint from a family home by Roy Bryant and Milam, the 14-year-old identified with the men, she claimed.

Till’s battered and disfigured body was found days later in a river, where it was weighed down by a heavy metal fan. The decision of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to open Till’s casket for his funeral in Chicago demonstrated the horror of what had happened and fueled the civil rights movement.

“No family should have to endure this pain for so long,” Parker said in her statement to CBS News on Tuesday. “In the future, we must keep alive the details and the memory of the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the courage of Grandma Mobley, so that we can reduce racial violence, improve our justice system and treat each other. others with the dignity and respect with which Mrs. Mobley has honored us all.”

Last year, the US Department of Justice said it was ending its investigation into Till’s murder.

In 2004, the Justice Department opened an investigation into Till’s murder after receiving inquiries about whether charges could be brought against anyone still alive. The department said the statute of limitations has run out 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 Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone, and the Justice Department announced it was closing the case.

Caroline Bryant

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