Woman Whose Accusations Led to Emmett Till’s Murder Won’t Be Charged by Grand Jury

A grand jury in Mississippi has declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham for her involvement in the abduction and murder of Emmett Till in 1955.

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery.

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery.

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery.

A grand jury in Mississippi has declined to indict the white woman who claimed Emmett Till made sexual advances towards her, which led to his abduction and murder in 1955, the Associated Press reports

The jury determined last week that there was insufficient evidence to charge Carolyn Bryant Donham with kidnapping and manslaughter after hearing over seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses. A group, consisting of Deborah Watts, Till’s cousin and head of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, Watts’ daughter Teri, and members of the foundation, found a warrant for the arrest of Donham while searching the basement of a Leflore County courthouse last month. 

“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts demanded. In an unpublished memoir obtained by The Associated Press, Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law J.W. Milam showed up in the middle of the night with a 14-year-old Till after kidnapping him at gunpoint at his great-uncle Mose Wright’s home. Donham alleges she was unaware of what would happen to Till, but also claims she tried to help him by denying any knowledge of who he was. 

Donham, who was 21 at the time of the incident, accused Till of directing lewd comments at her and grabbing her while she was working alone at the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, which she co-owned with Roy Bryant. Till’s then-12-year-old cousin Simeon Wright, who was with him, claimed he whistled at Donham. “I think he wanted to get a laugh out of us or something,” Wright said. “He was always joking around, and it was hard to tell when he was serious.” 

Till was brutally beaten by Bryant and Milam before being shot in the head and tossed into the Tallahatchie River with a heavy metal fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered three days later. Till’s mother Mamie Till Mobley decided to hold her son’s funeral with an open casket to show everyone what happened to him and ignite a renewed energy in the civil rights movement.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted by a jury made up entirely of white males. They confessed four months later to killing Till in an interview with Look magazine, under the protection of the double jeopardy clause which “prohibits anyone from being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime,” per Cornell Law School.

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