A Mississippi grand jury has declined to indict the white woman whose accusation set off the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago.
A Leflore County grand jury last week determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said in a news release on Tuesday.
The decision comes after hearing more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, the news release said.
The Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr, Emmett Till’s cousin and the last living witness to Till’s August 28, 1955, abduction, 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 those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished, to this day,” Parker said in a 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.”
Another one of Till's cousins, Deborah Watts, who leads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said the case is an example of the freedom afforded to white women to escape accountability for making false accusations against Black men.
“She has still escaped any accountability in this case,” Watts said. “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.”
The murder of Emmet Till
In June, a group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse discovered the unserved arrest warrant charging Donham, then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law 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, was never taken into custody.
The 14-year-old Chicago boy was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he and some other children went to the store in the town of Money where Carolyn Bryant worked. Relatives said that Till had whistled at the white woman, but denied that he touched her as she’d claimed.
In an unpublished memoir, Donham said Milam and her husband brought Till to her in the middle of the night for identification but that she tried to help the youth by denying it was him. She claimed that Till then volunteered that he was the one they were looking for.
Following their acquittal, Bryant and Milam admitted to the abduction and killing in an interview with Look magazine. They were not charged with a federal crime, and both have long since died.
In 2006, the FBI launched its Cold Case Initiative in an effort to identify and investigate racially-motivated murders. Two years later, Congress passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.