Mississippi Grand Jury Declines to Indict Accuser in Emmett Till's Abduction and Killing

According to reports, hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses were not enough to persuade the jury to charge 87-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham with kidnapping and manslaughter

Emmett Till, Carolyn Bryant Donham. Photo: AP; Gene Herrick/AP

A Mississippi grand jury declined to indict the white woman whose false accusations against Emmett Till led to his 1955 kidnapping and lynching.

According to the Associated Press, seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses was not enough to persuade the jury to charge 87-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham, who accused the 14-year-old Black teenager of whistling at her and attempting to grab her hand and waist inside a store nearly seven decades ago, though she later recanted the accusations.

Citing a news release from Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, the AP reports the jury concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Donham with kidnapping and manslaughter despite the contradicting evidence she presented to investigators over the years.

Emmett was from Chicago but was visiting family in Mississippi at the time Donham, then 21, accused him of lewdly touching her. Subsequently, Emmett was kidnapped from a relative's home, beaten severely, and mutilated before being shot. Afterwards, a large metal fan was tied to his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

Donham's husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and Bryant's half-brother, J.W. Milam, were tried for Emmett's murder, and an all-white jury acquitted them in September 1955 after an hour of deliberations. In a magazine interview after the trial, both men admitted killing the boy.

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Emmet's cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., who was reportedly the last living witness to the teen's kidnapping, called the jury's decision on Donham "unfortunate, but predictable," according to the AP.

"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," said Parker, per the outlet.

"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," he said.

In June, the discovery of an unserved warrant had relatives of Emmett calling on Mississippi authorities to arrest Donham.

In 2007, Donham recanted part of her story, telling Timothy B. Wilson for his book The Blood of Emmett Till the teen never touched her or harassed her verbally.

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