‘We suffered for 66 years’: US ends latest Emmett Till murder investigation without charges

The US justice department is ending its latest investigation into the death of Emmett Till, a Black teenager who was brutally abducted, tortured and killed in 1955, without filing any charges after failing to prove that a key witness lied.

Till’s family said it was disappointed by the news that there will continue to be no accountability for the infamous lynching.

“Today is a day we will never forget,” Till’s cousin, the Reverand Wheeler Parker, said during a news conference in Chicago. “For 66 years we have suffered pain … I suffered tremendously.”

The DoJ reopened the investigation after a 2017 book quoted Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white woman, as saying she lied about Till whistling and making sexual advances toward her.

But the investigation ended without charges against Donham, who told the FBI that she had never recanted her accusations. The justice department said in a news release Monday that there is “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI.”

The killing galvanized the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on an open casket and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.

Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is in her 80s, recanted her allegations about Till. Officials also said that Timothy B Tyson, the author of 2017’s The Blood of Emmett Till was unable to produce any recordings or transcripts in which Donham allegedly admitted to lying about her encounter with the teen.

“In closing this matter without prosecution, the government does not take the position that the state court testimony the woman gave in 1955 was truthful or accurate,” the news release said. “There remains considerable doubt as to the credibility of her version of events, which is contradicted by others who were with Till at the time, including the account of a living witness.”

Days after Till was killed, his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, where it was tossed after being weighted down with a cotton gin fan.

Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, were tried on murder charges about a month after Till was killed, but an all-white Mississippi jury acquitted them. Months later, they confessed to the murder in a paid interview with Look magazine. Bryant was married to Donham in 1955.

In 2004, the justice department had opened an investigation of Till’s killing after it received inquiries on whether charges could be brought against anyone still living. The department said the statute of limitations had run out on any potential federal crime, but the FBI worked with state investigators to determine if state charges could be brought. In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone and the justice department announced it was closing the case.

Bryant and Milam were not brought to trial again and they are now both dead. Donham has been living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The FBI in 2006 began a cold case initiative to investigate racially motivated killings from decades earlier. A federal law named after Till allows a review of killings that had not been 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 report was filed in 2020, but a report filed in June 2021 indicated that the department was still investigating the abduction and murder of Till.

The FBI investigation included a talk with Parker, who previously told the AP in an interview that he heard his cousin whistle at the woman in a store in Money, Mississippi, but that the teen did nothing to warrant being killed.

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