Emmett Until’s household needs a lady arrested after a warrant was uncovered 67 years later

JACKSON, Mississippi — A team searching the basement of a Mississippi courthouse for evidence of the lynching of black teenager Emmett Till has found the uncorroborated warrant that charged a white woman in his 1955 kidnapping, and relatives of the victim want that the authorities finally arrest her almost 70 years later.

An arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham – identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document — was discovered last week by searchers in a file folder that had been placed in a box, Leflore County County Clerk Elmus Stockstill said Wednesday.

The documents will be kept in boxes for decades, he said, but there was nothing else to suggest where the August 29, 1955 warrant might have been.

“They narrowed it down between the ’50s and ’60s and got lucky,” said Stockstill, who confirmed the search warrant as genuine.

The search group included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and two Till relatives: cousin Deborah Watts, director of the foundation; and her daughter Teri Watts. Relatives want authorities to use the warrant to arrest Donham, who was married at the time of the killing to one of two white men who were killed and dumped in a river just weeks after Till was kidnapped from a relative’s home was, were tried and acquitted.

“Serve it and blame them,” Teri Watts said.

Keith Beauchamp, whose documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till preceded a Justice Department re-inquiry that ended without charges in 2007, was also part of the search. He said there was enough new evidence to prosecute Donham.

Donham sparked the case in August 1955 by accusing 14-year-old Till of making improper advances at a family business in Money, Mississippi. A cousin of Till who was there said Till whistled at the woman, an act contrary to Mississippi’s racist social code of the time.

Evidence suggests that a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to the men who later killed him. The warrant for Donham’s arrest was released at the time, but the Leflore County sheriff told reporters he didn’t want to “molest” the woman because she has two young children to care for.

Donham, who is now in her 80s and most recently resides in North Carolina, has not publicly commented on calls for her to be prosecuted. But Teri Watts said the Till family believes the warrant accusing Donham of kidnapping is new evidence.

“That’s what the state of Mississippi needs to move forward with,” she said.

District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, whose office would be prosecuting a case, declined to comment on the warrant, but cited a December Justice Department report on the Till case, which said it could not prosecute.

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks was contacted by the AP on Wednesday and said, “This is the first time I’ve heard of a warrant.”

Banks, who was 7 when Till was killed, said “nothing was said about a warrant” when a former prosecutor investigated the case five or six years ago.

“I’ll see if I can get a copy of the search warrant and I’ll contact the DA’s office and get their opinion on it,” Banks said. If the warrant can still be served, Banks said he would need to speak to law enforcement officials in the state where Donham resides.

Arrest warrants can “become obsolete” due to the passage of time and changing circumstances, and one from 1955 would almost certainly fail in court even if a sheriff had agreed to serve it, said Ronald J. Rychlak, a law professor at the University of Mississippi.

But combined with new evidence, the original warrant could “absolutely” be an important step in establishing a likely cause for a new prosecution, he said.

“If you went before a judge, you might say, ‘Once upon a time, there was a judge who determined that there was a probable cause, and there’s a lot more information available today,'” Rychlak said.

Till, who was from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when, on August 24, 1955, he entered the store where Donham, then 21, worked. Wheeler Parker, a relative of Till who was there, said Till whistled at the woman. Donham testified in court that Till also grabbed her and made a lewd remark.

Two nights later, Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, showed up armed in rural Leflore County, the home of Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, in search of the youth. Till’s brutal body, pinned down by a fan, was pulled from a river in another county days later. His mother’s decision to open the casket so mourners in Chicago could see what had happened helped jumpstart the civil rights movement of the time.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder but later admitted the murder in a magazine interview. Although both men were named on the same warrant charging Donham with the kidnapping, authorities did not pursue the case after their acquittal.

Wright testified during the murder trial that a person with a “lighter” voice than a man’s voice identified Till from a pickup truck and the kidnappers took him away. Other evidence in FBI files indicates that earlier that same night, Donham told her husband that at least two other black men were not the right person.

Comments are closed.