Jackson, Miss. ,
WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers
The US Justice Department said on Monday it was ending its investigation into the 1955 murder of Chicago black teenager Emmett Till, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.
The head of the department’s civil rights department and other officials made the announcement after meeting with several of Till’s relatives.
Till family members said they were disappointed there would be no accountability for the infamous murder, with no charges being brought against Carolyn Bryant Donham, who lied about whether the woman ever touched him.
“Today is the day we will never forget,” Till’s cousin Rev Wheeler Parker Jr. said during a news conference in Chicago. “For 66 years we have suffered… I have suffered tremendous pain.”
The murder sparked a civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on an open coffin, and Jet magazine published photographs of her brutalized body.
The Justice Department quoted Dunham after a 2017 book said she lied when she claimed that 14-year-old Till held her, whistled and sexually assaulted her when she walked into a store in the small community of Money. was working. Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is in his 80s, repeated his allegations about Till.
In a news release Monday, the Justice Department said, Dunham told the FBI that he never changed his charges and that “there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he lied to the FBI.” Authorities also said that historian Timothy B. Tyson, author of 2017’s “The Blood of Emmett Till,” was unable to produce any recordings or tapes in which Donham allegedly lied about his encounter with the teen. agreed to speak.
“In closing this case without prosecution, the government does not take the position that the woman gave state court testimony true or accurate in 1955,” the Justice Department release said. “There is considerable doubt about the reliability of her version of events, which is contradicted by others who have lived up to that time, including the account of a living witness.”
Tyson said in a statement Monday that he provided the FBI with information from two interviews he had with Donham. He said he did not “change the prospect of prosecution in this case.”
“But our knowledge of his lying in court does not depend on those interviews, as I explain on page six of ‘The Blood of Emmett Till,'” he said.
“Since Carolyn Bryant Donham said nothing in two of our interviews had implicated any survivors, at the time I did not consider her particularly new. She had admitted only one crime to me, that lie. Was, and she lied, it wasn’t news to anyone. The statute of limitations for perjury in Mississippi was two years, so she was out of prosecution on that charge since the fall of 1957,” Tyson said.
Thelma Wright Edwards, one of Till’s cousins, said he was heartbroken but was not surprised that no new charges were being brought.
“I don’t have any hatred in my heart, but I hoped we could get an apology, but that didn’t happen,” Edwards said Monday in Chicago. “Nothing was settled. The matter is closed, and we have to move on from here.”
A few days after Till was killed, his body was pulled from the Tallahatchee River, where he was thrown after being shot and thrown down a cotton gin fan.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, were tried for murder nearly a month after Till’s murder, but were acquitted by an all-white Mississippi jury. Months later, he confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. Bryant was married to Donham in 1955.
The Justice Department launched an investigation into Till’s murder in 2004, when it received inquiries about whether charges could be brought against anyone still alive. The department said the statute of limitations had expired on any potential federal crime, but the FBI worked with state investigators to determine whether state charges could be brought. In February 2007, the Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone, and the Justice Department announced it was closing the case.
Bryant and Milam were never tried again and are now both dead. Donham is living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 2006 the FBI launched a cold case initiative to investigate racially motivated murders decades earlier. A federal law named after Till allows the review of murders that were not solved or prosecuted to the point of a conviction.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act requires the Justice Department to make an annual report to Congress. No reports were filed in 2020, but a report filed in June this year indicated that the department was still investigating Till’s kidnapping and murder.
The FBI investigation involved a conversation with Parker, who previously told the AP in an interview that he heard his cousin whistle at the woman in a store in Money, but the teen did nothing to warrant a kill.
Balsamo reported from Washington.