Emmett Till: Grand Jury Declines to Indict Accuser

A grand jury in Mississippi declined to indict the white female accused of starting the Emmett Till lynching nearly 70 years ago despite the revelations that she had an unsanctioned warrant for her arrest and a unpublished memoir, according to prosecutors Tuesday.

Leflore county district attorney Dewayne Richardson stated in a press release that Carolyn Bryant Donham was not indicted on the kidnapping charges after hearing seven hours of testimony.

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

The Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., Emmett Till’s cousin and the last living witness to Till’s 1955 abduction, said Tuesday’s news is unfortunate, but predictable.

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“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,” Parker said.

An email and voicemail seeking comment from Donham’s son Tom Bryant weren’t immediately returned Tuesday.

In June, a group of people searched the basement at the Leflore County Courthouse and found the unsanctioned warrant for Donham’s arrest. They were looking for Roy Bryant (then-husband) and J.W. Milam in Till’s abduction in 1955. While the men were arrested and acquitted on murder charges in Till’s subsequent slaying, Donham, 21 at the time and 87 now, was never taken into custody.

Donham, in an unpublished memoir, claimed she didn’t know what happened to Till at 14 years old. Till was from Chicago, and visiting family in Mississippi. He was kidnapped, killed, and tossed into a river. He made lewd remarks and grabbed her as she was working alone in a Family Store in Money, Mississippi.

Donham stated in the manuscript, that Till was brought to her by the men in the middle night to be identified. She said that she attempted to assist the youngster by denigrating it as him. She claimed that the fourteen-year-old was taken at gunpoint from her family home by Roy Bryant, Milam.

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

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The Justice Department in 2004 had opened an investigation of Till’s killing after it received inquiries about whether charges could be brought against anyone still living. Although the department stated that the statute of limitations was expired for any federal offense, the FBI worked closely with state investigators in order to see if it could bring state charges. A Mississippi grand jury refused to indict anybody and, as a result, the Justice Department declared that it would close the case.

Following a 2017 book claiming Donham lied about Till’s claims that she had held her hand, whistled and made sexual advances to her, the Justice Department opened the probe again. Donham is now in her 80s and her relatives have denied her claims regarding Till. But federal officials announced last year that they were once again closing their investigation, saying there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI,”

Associated Press Writer Allen G. BreedContributed to the report.

Michael GoldbergHe is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is an independent national service program which places journalists in local media outlets to cover under-covered topics. Follow him on Twitter at

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