Mississippi grand jury DECLINES to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham in Emmett Till's lynching

Mississippi grand jury DECLINES to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham in Emmett Till's lynching
Carolyn Bryant Donham, (R) who is now in her 80s, is reportedly unlikely to ever be charged for her involvement in Emmette Till's (L) death (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images and 60 Minutes/CBS News)

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: A Mississippi grand jury has declined to indict the white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation sparked the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago despite revelations about an unserved arrest warrant and the woman's unpublished memoir, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

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An arrest warrant was discovered in July 2022 charging Carolyn Bryant Donham with the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. The warrant seeks evidence to arrest and prosecute Donham. And now, Till's family, who initiated the search, wants authorities to act quickly to arrest and prosecute Donham, who committed the crime 67 years ago.

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Arrest warrant was never served in Emmett Till murder (Photo: screengrab of 13News/ Youtube)
The arrest warrant was never served (Screengrab of 13News/ Youtube)

A Leflore County grand jury recently determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter after hearing more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said in a news release on Tuesday. Donham, who is now in her 80s, is unlikely to ever be charged for her involvement in the incidents that led to Till's lynching. 

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In a statement to CBS News, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr, the cousin of Till, criticized the choice as "unfortunate but predictable." Parker stated, "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." He added, "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." 

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The outstanding arrest warrant accusing Donham, her ex-husband Roy Bryant, and her brother-in-law JW Milam of kidnapping Till in 1955 was found in the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse in June. Donham, who was 21 at the time and is now 87, was never taken into custody while the other men were detained and found not guilty of murder in the killing of Till. 

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The 14-year-old teenager, who resided in Chicago, was visiting family in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, killed, and thrown into a river, according to Donham, whose unpublished memoir was obtained in July by The Associated Press. Donham had accused the teen of making obscene remarks and touching her while she was working alone in a family store in Money, Mississippi. 

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Days later, Till's mangled, deformed body was discovered weighted down by a large metal fan in a river. The choice of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to expose Till's casket at his funeral in Chicago revealed the tragedy of what had occurred and fueled the civil rights movement.

The recently recovered warrant did not "appreciably modify the concrete evidence against her," according to Timothy Tyson, the North Carolina historian who spoke with Donham for his 2017 book 'The Blood of Emmett Till'. But he asserted that the case's fresh attention should "compel Americans" to confront the persistent racial and economic inequalities in this country. 

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"The Till case will not go away because the racism and ruthless indifference that created it remain with us," he said in an email. "We see generations of Black children struggle against these obstacles, and many die due to systemic racism that is every bit as lethal as a rope or a revolver."

Parker stated to CBS News on Tuesday. "No family should ever have to endure this pain for this long," adding, "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."

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Despite the grand jury's verdict, Ollie Gordon, another one of Till's cousins, told The Associated Press that some justice had been done in the Till case. He said, "Justice is not always locking somebody up and throwing the keys away,” Gordon said, “Ms Donham has not gone to jail. But in many ways, I don’t think she’s had a pleasant life. I think each day she wakes up, she has to face the atrocities that have come because of her actions."

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Deborah Watts, a third cousin who is in charge of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, claimed that the situation is an illustration of the leeway given to white women to avoid facing consequences for making untrue charges against Black men. Watts claimed, "She has still escaped any accountability in this case." he added, “So the grand jury’s decision is disappointing, but we’re still going to be calling for justice for Emmett Till. It’s not over."

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