Emmett Till’s relatives seek prosecution of accuser in 1955 kidnapping

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There are many roadblocks. Witnesses have died in the decades since Till’s lynching, and it’s unclear what happened to the evidence gathered by investigators. Even the location of the original warrant is a mystery. They may be boxes of old courthouse records from Leflore County, Mississippi, where the kidnapping took place.

A relative of Till said it was high time someone arrested Donham in Till’s kidnapping, if not for the murder itself.

“Mississippi isn’t the Mississippi of 1955, but it still seems to carry some of that era of protecting white women,” said Deborah Watts, a distant cousin of Till’s who heads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

Now in his late 80s and more recently living in Raleigh, North Carolina, Donham has not publicly commented on the calls for his prosecution. She didn’t seem to know she’d been named in a warrant for Till’s kidnapping until decades later, said Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent who interviewed her there. is over 15 years old.

“I don’t think she remembered it,” he said. “She acted surprised.”

The Justice Department closed its latest investigation into the murder in December, when the agency said Donham denied an author’s claim that she retracted claims that Till did something to her. inappropriate in the store where she worked in the city of Money. The writer was unable to produce any recordings or transcripts to support the allegation, authorities said.

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Until relatives met with officials including District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, Leflore County’s lead prosecutor, in March, but remained dissatisfied, Watts said. “There doesn’t seem to be the determination or the courage to do what needs to be done,” she said.

Richardson has served for about 15 years and was the first black to serve as president of the Mississippi Attorneys Association. He did not return phone messages or emails seeking comment on a potential kidnapping case.

Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker whose documentary ‘The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till’ preceded a new Justice Department investigation that ended without charge in 2007, said there was enough evidence to pursue Donham.

“If we say we are a country of truth and justice, we must get truth and justice…no matter the age or gender of the person involved,” Beauchamp said.

Stories about the events leading up to Till kills have varied over the years, but the woman known at the time as Carolyn Bryant was always at the center of it, said author Devery Anderson, who obtained original FBI files on the case while researching his 2015 book “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked”. the world and propelled the civil rights movement.”

Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi when he walked into the store on August 24, 1955; Donham, then 21, worked indoors. A relative of Till who was there at the time, Wheeler Parker, told The Associated Press that Till had whistled the woman. Donham testified that Till grabbed her.

Two nights later, Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, showed up armed at the rural home of Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, looking for the youngster.

Wright testified in 1955 that a person with a “lighter” voice than a man identified Till inside a van and the kidnappers took him away. Other evidence in FBI files indicates that earlier that night, Donham told her husband that at least two other black men were the wrong person.

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Authorities had already obtained warrants charging the two men and Donham with kidnapping before Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River, according to FBI records, but police never arrested Donham.

“We’re not going to disturb the woman,” Leflore County Sheriff George Smith said, “she has two little boys to take care of.”

Roy Bryant and Milam were quickly charged with murder and they were acquitted by an all-white jury in Tallahatchie County about two weeks later.

Grand jurors in neighboring Leflore County declined to indict the men for kidnapping afterwards, ending the threat of lawsuits against Roy Bryant and Milam. Both men have been dead for decades, leaving Donham as the only survivor directly involved.

Killinger, the retired federal agent, said he had seen neither the original warrant during his investigation nor any indication that it was ever overturned by a court, and it is unclear s could be used today to arrest or try Donham. Even if authorities found the original documents with affidavits detailing the evidence, he said, the courts need witnesses to testify.

“And my understanding is that all of those people are dead,” Killinger said.

To exploreExcerpt from the book: “The Blood of Emmett Till”

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Reeves is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.

FILE-In this file combo photo, John W. Milam, 35, left, his half-brother Roy Bryant, 24, center, who is on trial in Sumner, Miss., September 18, 1955, and is charged with the Murder of 14-year-old African American Emmett L. Till of Chicago, Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, is seen at right. Stuck in their calls for a new investigation into the murder of Emmett Till, relatives and activists are pushing for another possible route to accountability in Mississippi: They want authorities to file a kidnapping prosecution against the woman who started the lynching accusing the Chicago teenager of inappropriate advances in 1955. (AP Photo, File)

Credit: uncredited

Credit: uncredited

FILE-In this file combo photo, John W. Milam, 35, left, his half-brother Roy Bryant, 24, center, who is on trial in Sumner, Miss., September 18, 1955, and is charged with the Murder of 14-year-old African American Emmett L. Till of Chicago, Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, is seen at right. Stuck in their calls for a new investigation into the murder of Emmett Till, relatives and activists are pushing for another possible route to accountability in Mississippi: They want authorities to file a kidnapping prosecution against the woman who started the lynching accusing the Chicago teenager of inappropriate advances in 1955. (AP Photo, File)

Credit: uncredited

Credit: uncredited

FILE-In this Friday, March 11, 2022, file photo, Deborah Watts, second from right, a cousin of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black man from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and lynched after allegedly whistling a white woman at her family store in rural Mississippi, presents Mississippi Attorney General’s Office Representative Wayne Lynch with a poster and a USB flash drive believed to have nearly 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for a new investigation into the lynching of 1955, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/ Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Credit: Rogelio V. Solis

FILE-In this Friday, March 11, 2022, file photo, Deborah Watts, second from right, a cousin of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black man from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and lynched after allegedly whistling a white woman at her family store in rural Mississippi, presents Mississippi Attorney General's Office Representative Wayne Lynch with a poster and a USB flash drive believed to have nearly 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for a new investigation into the lynching of 1955, in Jackson, Miss.  (AP Photo/ Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Credit: Rogelio V. Solis

FILE-In this Friday, March 11, 2022, file photo, Deborah Watts, second from right, a cousin of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black man from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and lynched after allegedly whistling a white woman at her family store in rural Mississippi, presents Mississippi Attorney General’s Office Representative Wayne Lynch with a poster and a USB flash drive believed to have nearly 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for a new investigation into the lynching of 1955, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/ Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Credit: Rogelio V. Solis

Credit: Rogelio V. Solis

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