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Feds reopen Emmett Till murder case, family 'wants justice to prevail'  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

JACKSON, Miss. – The FBI is once again investigating the grisly murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy whose abduction lit a fire under the civil rights movement in 1955. And even after 63 years, the news couldn't come soon enough for Emmett's relatives.

"We want the process to work, and we want justice to prevail for Emmett," Deborah Watts, Emmett's cousin, told USA TODAY. "This cannot just be forgotten."

Wheeler Parker, who was with Till that fateful night, said he wants to see justice for his cousin. “That would be the biggest Christmas present,” he said.

Till, who was black, was abducted Aug. 28, 1955, three days after Carolyn Donham, a white 21-year-old shopkeeper in the town of Money, said the 14-year-old grabbed and wolf-whistled at her.

The battered body of Till, nicknamed "Bobo," was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. The viciousness of the killing rocked the nation, and the woman's then-husband and another man were charged with murder. Both were acquitted by an all-white jury that year.

The Justice Department said in a statement Thursday that it was reopening the investigation "after receiving new information" it did not detail. The decision was revealed to Congress in a February report and was first reported by the Associated Press.

"Because it is an active investigation, the department cannot provide any additional information at this time," the department said Thursday.

Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, made sure her son's casket was left open for the viewing so the public could see how badly he had been beaten. Tens of thousands of African-Americans paid their respects.

"Mamie Till’s decision to allow African-American media outlets to display her son’s battered body was one of the critical events that galvanized African-Americans to fight to end America’s racial dictatorship through the Civil Rights movement," said Alvin Tillery, a political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.

Emmett Till's death made news last year with publication of "The Blood of Emmett Till." The book, written by Timothy B. Tyson, quotes Donham admitting in 2008 that she wasn't telling the truth when she made the claims. Donham, now in her 80s, lives in North Carolina.

Watts, founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said the family had hoped the book would lead to a "vigorous" investigation – and possibly charges against Donham.

"We always understood that she had lied," Watts said. 

USA TODAY was unable to contact Donham. The Associated Press said a man who answered her door said Donham would not comment.

Four months after the widely publicized trial, Look magazine published an account of the killing  it said it obtained from Donham's then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his brother, J.W. Milam. In the article, the men admit beating Till and tossing him in the river, weighed down with a 74-pound cotton gin fan.

Milam told the magazine the men wanted to beat and scare Till, not kill him. But when he could not be frightened, they decided to kill him, Milam said.

"What else could we do?" Milam told the magazine.  "... He's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him."

Milam died in 1980, Bryant in 1994. That might leave only Donham to face charges. Kevin Borgeson, a professor of criminal justice at Salem State University, says concerns about the statute of limitations could be  resolved with a charge of obstruction of justice.

"Depending on the type of crime, the statute of limitations on obstruction can be waived," he said. If she did lie, "she took the investigation where it wouldn't have gone if she had just been honest."

The federal government reopened the case in 2004 but closed it in 2007 with no further charges filed.

The Justice Department's February report was required under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016. The bill reauthorized investigation and prosecution of civil rights violations that occurred before 1970, expanded powers to include crime in the 1970s, required that families be kept abreast of developments and demanded an annual report on the investigations to Congress.

Simeon Wright, who said he was a witness to Till's abduction, died in September. He said he was  there when Till wolf-whistled at Bryant's wife at the store.

Wright, in his book "Simeon's Story," says that days later, on Aug. 28, 1955, Wright and Till were sleeping when Milam and Bryant entered with guns. He said his mother begged the men not to take Till, even offering them money.

"They had come for Bobo," Wright wrote. "No begging, pleading or payment was going to stop them."

The men took Till away, and Wright never saw him again.

"I must have stayed in the bed for hours, petrified," Wright wrote.

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