Grand Jury Won’t Charge Accuser Carolyn Bryant Donham in Emmett Till’s 1955 Slaying

On Tuesday, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose false allegations led to Emmett Till’s slaying in 1955.

A Leflore County grand jury that was considering manslaughter and kidnapping charges against Donham, 88, did not find sufficient evidence. District Attorney Dewayne Richardson’s office said jurors heard more than seven hours of testimony from people involved in the investigation since 2004, according to Mississippi News.

In a memoir found in July, Donham reportedly wrote that she did not know her claims that Till whistled at her and grabbed her would lead to his slaying. The title of her memoir, which was acquired by WMAQ, was entitled, “I Am More Than a Wolf Whistle.”

In June, an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest was found in a courthouse that sought to charge her with kidnapping alongside her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam.

In 1955, Till was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, when Donham, a 21-year-old cashier, accused him of whistling at her while he bought bubble gum. Bryant and Milam tracked down Till before they shot and beat him to death. The 14-year-old was found in the river with a cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire.

An all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam for the gruesome crime in September 1955 after a mere hour of deliberation. Following their acquittal, the pair told Look magazine — for about $3,000 — about mutilating Till before sinking his body in a local river. Roy Bryant and Milam have since died.

A federal investigation was opened into the 14-year-old’s slaying in July 2018, a year after Professor Timothy Tyson released “The Blood of Emmett Till.” In the 2017 book, Tyson alleges that Till’s accuser, Donham, then 72, told him in 2007 that she lied about crucial aspects of her testimony.

In December 2021, the Justice Department closed its second investigation into the case. Allegations revealed in Tyson’s book reportedly led federal investigators to question Donham again to determine whether she recanted her prior testimony and what information she could offer that could lead to charges for any other possible accomplices.

During that meeting, Donham reportedly denied recanting her testimony to Tyson. According to reports, Donham’s comments to Tyson were not recorded or transcribed, and the author provided conflicting statements about whether a recording actually existed. Tyson allegedly took some notes about their conversation, but he failed to provide a solid timeline about when the confession occurred.

According to Tyson, Donham said she felt “tender sorrow” for Mamie Till-Mobley — the slain teen’s mother who died in 2003.

“When Carolyn herself [later] lost one of her sons, she thought about the grief that Mamie must have felt and grieved all the more,” Tyson told Vanity Fair in 2017.

The Justice Department opened its original investigation but closed it in 2007, finding nobody could face charges on the federal level due to the statute of limitations and available evidence.

Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral and allowed Jet magazine to publish photographs of her son’s disfigured and bloated corpse to call attention to what happened to her son. The unsettling photos are widely credited with sparking the American civil rights movement.

For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode:

Join Nancy Grace for her new online video series designed to help you protect what you love most — your children.

[Featured image: Carolyn Bryant Donham/Facebook; Emmett Till/AP Photo, File]