Mississippi Grand Jury Refuses to Indict Emmett Till Accuser

Carolyn Bryant Donham and Emmett Till

A grand jury in Mississippi has declined to indict the white woman whose accusations against Emmett Till led to the teenager’s kidnapping and death in the Jim Crow South.

The Leflore County grand jury heard more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses last week, but determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said Tuesday in a news release obtained by the Associated Press.

The decision by the grand jury makes it unlikely Donham, 87, will ever be prosecuted for wrongfully accusing Till of making an advance at her, leading to his lynching that spurred the civil rights movement.

An all-white jury acquitted Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant and her brother-in-law J.W. Milam for killing Emmett, who was 14 years old at the time of his death.

The case received renewed attention in June following the discovery of an unserved arrest warrant charging Donham with Till’s kidnapping.

Related Story: ‘Till’ Trailer Follows Emmett Till’s Life and His Mother’s Painful Journey

A research group located the warrant inside a dusty box at a county courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi. The warrant was dated Aug. 29, 1955.

The group included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, whose 2005 documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till brought attention to the case.

“I cried. We cried. We hugged,” Emmett’s cousin Deborah Watts told CNN right after the warrant was found. “Unbelievable. We held each other. Justice has to be served.”

Emmett was visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta region, when he was accused of whistling at Donham at a local store. Days later, the Black teenager from Chicago was abducted, beaten, lynched and shot. He died on Aug. 28, 1955.

Decades later, his story continues to gain media attention.

In January, ABC released the miniseries Women of the Movement about the Civil Rights Movement, Emmett Till and his mother. The series was directed by filmmakers Gina Prince-Bythewood and Kasi Lemmons, and produced by Bythewood, Jay-Z, Will Smith, Jay Brown, Tyran ‘Ty Ty’ Smith, and James Lassiter.

MGM’s Orion Pictures will release a film on the Till family in October titled Till. The drama tells the story of Emmett  and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, as she fights for justice for the slain teen. The film is directed by Chinonye Chukwu and stars Danielle Deadwyler (The Harder They Fall) as Mamie Till Mobley and Jalyn Hall (All American) as Emmett Till. The cast also includes Frankie Faison, Haley Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sean Patrick Thomas.

Till opens in select theaters on Oct. 14 and expands nationwide on Oct. 28.