A grand jury in Mississippi examining the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy whose 1955 abduction and killing became a galvanizing force for the civil rights movement, has declined to indict the white woman whose accusations spurred the attack, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The Leflore County, Miss., jury found that there was not sufficient evidence to indict the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, with kidnapping or manslaughter, according to a statement from prosecutors for the Fourth Circuit Court District of Mississippi. The jurors had heard more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses who had direct knowledge of the case, prosecutors said.
The testimony came after decades of various efforts to hold Ms. Donham, now 88, criminally responsible for her role in what led to the teenager being dragged from the home where he was staying, tortured and shot. In June, relatives of Emmett and researchers into his murder discovered an unserved arrest warrant against Ms. Donham connected to the murder.
But as investigations were closed and no indictments or charges were issued, the legal avenues available to prosecutors and law enforcement officials narrowed. The latest wrinkle on Tuesday could very well be one of the last.
“The fact remains that the people who abducted, tortured and murdered Emmett did so in plain sight, and our American justice system was and continues to be set up in such a way that they could not be brought to justice for their heinous crimes,” the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., a cousin and best friend of Emmett’s who is the last living witness to the abduction, said in a statement on Tuesday. “No family should ever have to endure this pain for this long.”
In the summer of 1955, Emmett traveled to the Mississippi Delta from Chicago; that August, he walked into a store run by Ms. Donham and her husband, Roy Bryant, to buy candy. There are varying accounts of what happened, but a witness had said that Emmett whistled at Ms. Donham.
Mr. Bryant and another man, who are both now dead, confessed to Emmett’s murder but only after they had been acquitted by an all-white jury.
A Justice Department investigation into the case had been reopened after a historian claimed in 2017 that Ms. Donham had recanted the most salacious parts of her account, including that the teenager had grabbed her and made sexually suggestive remarks. But in December, federal officials said the inquiry had been closed and prosecutors could not pursue perjury charges, citing the statute of limitations and Ms. Donham’s denial of ever changing her story.