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Grand jury declines to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose accusations led to the death of Emmett Till

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Emmett Louis Till, 14, with his mother, Mamie Bradley, at home in Chicago.

(CNN) — A grand jury in Mississippi has declined to indict the White woman who accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of making advances toward her nearly 70 years ago, allegations that led to the Black teen’s brutal death.

A Leflore County grand jury last week heard seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses but said there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, according to a statement from District Attorney Dewayne Richardson.

The grand jury heard the testimony from witnesses detailing the investigation of the case from 2004 to the present day and considered both charges, according to the statement.

“After hearing every aspect of the investigation and evidence collected regarding Donham’s involvement, the Grand Jury returned a ‘No Bill’ to the charges of both Kidnapping and Manslaughter,” the statement said. “The murder of Emmett Till remains an unforgettable tragedy in this country and the thoughts and prayers of this nation continue to be with the family of Emmett Till.”

Family members of Emmett, whose killing in the Jim Crow-era South spurred the civil rights movement in America, said earlier this summer that they had unearthed an unserved arrest warrant for Donham, her late husband and his friend.

CNN reached out Tuesday to Emmett’s family for comment but did not hear back.

While Emmett’s killing remains a touchstone moment in the United States’ long struggle with racial injustice and inequality, to this day, no one has been held criminally responsible.

Emmett was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he had his fateful encounter with then-20-year-old Carolyn Bryant. Accounts from that day differ, but witnesses alleged Emmett whistled at the woman at the market she owned with her husband in the town of Money.

Four days later, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam took Emmett from his bed, ordered him into the back of a pickup truck and beat him before shooting him in the head and tossing his body into the Tallahatchie River.

But they were both acquitted of murder following a trial in which Carolyn Bryant testified that Emmett grabbed and verbally threatened her. The jury deliberated for barely an hour.

In 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham on charges. And according to archived FBI documents, Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested on a kidnapping charge in 1955, but a grand jury failed to indict them. “The original court, District Attorney, and investigative records related to the 1955 investigation have been apparently lost,” the FBI said in a 2006 report.

 

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