(NEW YORK) — Emmett Till’s cousin and advocates for justice in the decades-old case expressed disappointment in a grand jury’s decision not to indict the woman who accused Till of making advances at her before the 14-year-old was kidnapped and murdered.
A grand jury in Leflore County, Mississippi, determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, 88, on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, Dewayne Richardson, the country’s district attorney, said.
Bryant Donham’s statement allegedly led to Till’s kidnapping and murder in August 1955 at the hands of her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam. The two men were acquitted of murder charges by an all-white jury weeks after Till’s mutilated body was found in the Tallahatchie River. Bryant Donham was never arrested.
For Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living witness to his abduction, the decision marks a difficult, though anticipated outcome to Mississippi officials’ promise to “leave no stone unturned” in the 67-year fight for justice for his best friend, he said in a statement.
“This outcome is unfortunate, but predictable, news,” Parker said. “The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-Black systems that guaranteed those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished, to this day.”
Keith Beauchamp, the director of the documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and writer of upcoming film Till, told ABC News on Wednesday the grand jury decision is “a huge blow” for racial reconciliation in the United States.
“I respect, of course, the grand jury’s decision, but it does not mean that I have to agree with it. When I think of what has just happened as a Black person, as Black people who are constant victims of the judicial system of America, it’s a huge blow. I feel that it’s a huge blow to our humanity,” he said.
Beauchamp had expressed hope for a different outcome after an original warrant for Bryant Donham’s arrest was found in a Leflore County courthouse in June.
“Although we have not received what many, I believe, would want…I have some solace knowing that Carolyn Bryant won’t be riding away in the sunset without looking over her shoulder,” he said. “It is important that we hold people accountable for their actions if we truly want to see change in this country when it comes to civil and human rights.”
The U.S. Justice Department reopened an investigation into Till’s murder in 2018 but was unable to uncover sufficient evidence for a federal prosecution of Bryant Donham.
While the decision resurrects the question of whether Bryant Donham will ever face charges for the kidnapping and killing of Till, Beauchamp says he will continue to search for new evidence to see the case brought to court again.
“Cold cases always heat up,” he said, adding that he hopes raising awareness will bring new information and closure to Till’s family.
“No family should ever have to endure this pain for this long,” Parker said. “Going forward, we must keep the details, and memory, of the brutal murder of Emmett Till, and the courage of Mamie Mobley, alive, so that we can reduce racial violence, improve our system of justice, and treat each other with the dignity and respect with which Mrs. Mobley graced us all.”
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