Sheriff: No point serving decades-old warrant in Emmett Till kidnapping
The Mississippi arrest warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant” was issued shortly after Till's death but was never served on the white woman who has since remarried and is now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi sheriff says in a new court filing that there’s no point in serving an arrest warrant on a white woman in the 1955 kidnapping that led to the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till because last year a grand jury decided not to indict the woman.
Till’s kidnapping and killing became a catalyst for the civil rights movement when his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in their hometown of Chicago after his brutalized body was pulled from a river in Mississippi. Jet magazine published photos.
The Mississippi arrest warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant” was issued shortly after Till’s death but was never served on the white woman who has since remarried and is now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham.
Last June, a team doing research at the courthouse in Leflore County, Mississippi, found the unserved warrant. In July, the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said there was no new evidence to pursue a criminal case against Donham. In August, a district attorney said a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict Donham.
“Since the Grand Jury found no probable cause to indict Donham on the charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, there is no probable cause to support the 1955 Arrest Warrant,” Charles J. Swayze III, an attorney for Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks, wrote in court papers filed Thursday.
Till’s cousin Priscilla Sterling filed a federal lawsuit against Bankson Feb. 7, seeking to compel him to serve the 1955 warrant on Donham. In the response Thursday, Swayze asked a judge to dismiss the suit.
The Associated Press left a phone message Tuesday for one of Sterling’s attorneys, seeking comment about the sheriff’s court filing.
Till traveled from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi in August 1955. Donham accused him of making improper advances on her at a grocery store in the small community of Money. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Till who was there, has said 14-year-old Till whistled at the woman — an act that flew in the face of Mississippi’s racist social codes of the era.
Evidence indicates a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to her then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, who killed the teenager. The arrest warrant against Donham was publicized in 1955, but the Leflore County sheriff at the time, George Smith, told reporters that he did not want to “bother” the woman since she was raising two young children.
Weeks after Till’s body was found, Roy Bryant and Milam were tried for murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Months later, the men confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine.
Banks has been sheriff since 1980. In the court filing Thursday, Swayze wrote that Sterling’s lawsuit shows “no factual allegation of misconduct by Banks.”
Donham, now in her late 80s, has lived in North Carolina and Kentucky in recent years. She has not commented publicly on calls for her prosecution. The U.S. Justice Department announced in December 2021 that it had ended its latest investigation into the lynching of Till, without bringing charges against anyone.
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