Grand Jury Declines to Indict Woman in Emmett Till Case

After discovery of 1955 warrant, relatives urged authorities to detain Carolyn Bryant Donham
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2022 9:26 AM CDT
Updated Aug 9, 2022 7:59 PM CDT
Emmett Till Family Not Backing Down From Calls for Arrest
In this Sept. 22, 1955, photo, Carolyn Bryant rests her head on her husband Roy Bryant's shoulder after she testified in the Emmett Till murder case in Sumner, Miss.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) Update: A grand jury in Mississippi has declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the 87-year-old woman whose accusations led to the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said in a statement that a grand jury heard seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses but decided there wasn't enough evidence to indict Donham on kidnapping and manslaughter charges, CNN reports. Till's relatives called for Donham's arrest after an unserved 1955 arrest warrant was found and her unpublished memoir, with details of the Black teen's abduction, surfaced. Our story from July 8 follows:

Last month, an unserved arrest warrant was unearthed in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse, calling for the detention of Carolyn Bryant Donham for the 1955 kidnapping of 14-year-old Emmett Till. The discovery prompted Till's family to call for Donham's arrest, and that demand hasn't abated in the time since. NBC News reports that Till's cousin, Priscilla Sterling, turned up the pressure Thursday on District Attorney W. Dewayne Richardson to finally serve the nearly 70-year-old warrant on Donham, who was married to one of the two white men acquitted of killing Till, who was Black. Donham is now in her 80s, with a last known address in North Carolina.

"The family wants Carolyn Bryant to face justice," Sterling said in a Thursday presser. "We want her to at least come here and defend herself." "Emmett Till never got to make it to 87," added attorney Malik Shabazz, who accompanied the Till family on Thursday. "Emmett Till never had a day where he could go to a nursing [home] or whatever, because his life was taken." Shabazz was apparently referencing where Donham is believed to now be living, and on Wednesday, dozens of demonstrators descended upon a senior living facility in Raleigh looking for her, reports WRAL. "Time to face your demons. Come on out," one protester was heard saying, just before some of the demonstrators entered the facility, prompting the police to be called.

The center had to be placed on a short lockdown as a result of the commotion. Donham's husband, Roy Bryant, and JW Milam, Bryant's half brother, were acquitted shortly after Till's murder, though they later admitted in a magazine interview to killing him. Donham was the one who accused Till of making improper advances toward her in a family store, and the one suspected of IDing Till to her husband and brother-in-law. WRAL reports the newly found arrest warrant charged the two men and Donham of kidnapping. A note from a local sheriff on the back of the warrant reportedly said Donham wasn't arrested because authorities hadn't located her, though a sheriff at the time is said to have told the media she wasn't arrested because she had two children to tend to. (You know about Emmett Till, but not about the barn.)

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