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Grand jury declines to indict woman whose accusation set off lynching in 1955

Emmett Till (AP)
Emmett Till (AP)

A grand jury in the US state of Mississippi has declined to indict the white woman whose accusation set off the lynching of black teenager Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago, despite revelations about an unserved arrest warrant and a newly revealed memoir by the woman, a prosecutor said.

After hearing more than seven hours of evidence from investigators and witnesses, a Leflore County grand jury last week determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter.

It is now increasingly unlikely that Ms Donham, who is now in her 80s, will ever be prosecuted for her role in the events that led to Emmett’s lynching.

An email and voicemail seeking comment from her son Tom Bryant were not immediately returned.

Emmitt Till
Carolyn Bryant poses for a photo (Gene Herrick/AP)

A group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse in June discovered the unserved arrest warrant charging Ms Donham, then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law J.W. Milam in Emmett’s abduction in 1955.

While the men were arrested and acquitted on murder charges in Emmett’s subsequent killing, Ms Donham, 21 at the time and 87 now, was never taken into custody.

In an unpublished memoir obtained last month, Ms Donham said she was unaware of what would happen to the 14-year-old Emmett, who lived in Chicago and was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was abducted, killed and tossed in a river.

She accused him of making lewd comments and grabbing her while she worked alone at a family store in Money, Mississippi.

Ms Donham said in the manuscript that the men brought Emmett to her in the middle of the night for identification but that she tried to help the youth by denying it was him.

Despite being abducted at gunpoint from a family home by Roy Bryant and Milam, the 14-year-old identified himself to the men, she claimed.

Emmett’s battered, disfigured body was found days later in a river, where it was weighted down with a heavy metal fan.

The decision by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to open Emmett’s coffin for his funeral in Chicago demonstrated the horror of what had happened and added fuel to the civil rights movement.