Emmett Till’s family calls for justice after finding unserved arrest warrant in his case


“I cried. We cried. We hugged,” Emmett’s niece, Deborah Watts, told CNN when she said members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation found the warrant in a dusty, damp box in a Greenwood, Mississippi courthouse. . ‘Incredible. We held each other. There must be justice.’

The warrant was discovered last week by a five-member search group led by members of Till’s family, including Deborah Watts and her daughter Terri. An image of the warrant, which was provided to CNN by the foundation, accused JW Milam, Roy Bryant and Bryant’s then-wife — identified in the document as Ms. Roy Bryant — of kidnapping and ordering their arrests. The warrant is dated August 29, 1955 and signed by the Leflore County Clerk.

The two men were acquitted of Emmett’s murder by an all-white jury soon after, although she later admitted in an interview with Look that they had been murdered. magazine. Milam died in 1980 and Bryant died in 1994, but his widow – now Carolyn Bryant Donham – is still alive, and Emmett’s family hopes the warrant will lead to her arrest and eventual justice.

“Justice must be served,” Watts told CNN, adding, “Emmett led us there. I know that in my heart.”

Decision to Close Emmett Till's Investigation Doesn't Bring Justice to His Family

The image of the arrest warrant shows that the current Leflore County Registrar authenticated the document on June 21. In the absence of police action in light of the finding, the family has considered taking the initiative to bring justice to Emmett’s brutal murder.

“We were thinking of things like citizen’s arrest,” Watts said. “If the authorities aren’t going to do this, what can we do?” Watts told CNN.

The family believes the arrest warrant serves as new evidence that has remained unexplained for decades, Watts added, and when it was found, the family was overcome with emotion.

“It was overwhelming. … We were also in a state of shock,” Watts said.

Terri Watts echoed those sentiments: “I had to look at the warrant several times to make sure it was real,” she said.

“I definitely want to get through it. But it’s been a tremendous amount of trauma. I still feel like the weight is on our shoulders. We’ve found the new evidence, so we just want justice to be served,” Terri said. Watts.

The warrant’s discovery was first reported by the New York Amsterdam News, one of the country’s oldest African-American publications.

According to The New York Times, an affidavit accompanying the arrest warrant said the three had forcibly seized, imprisoned and kidnapped Emmett “deliberately, unlawfully and criminally and without legal authority,” although his last name was misspelled. The back of the arrest warrant states that Donham was not arrested because she could not be found at the time, the Times reported, citing filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp, who was part of the team that discovered the arrest warrant.

Neither Donham nor the Leflore County Clerk’s Office have responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

Deborah Watts, a niece of Emmett Till, speaks while pointing to a painting by Till during a news conference at the Mississippi Capitol, on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Jackson.

Professor claimed that Donham retracted testimony that Emmett Till grabbed her

While Emmett’s murder remains a touchstone in the United States’ long struggle with racial injustice and inequality, to this day no one has been held criminally responsible.

The 14-year-old Chicago boy was visiting family in Mississippi when he had his fateful encounter with then 20-year-old Carolyn Bryant. Accounts of that day differ, but witnesses claimed that Emmett whistled at the woman at the market she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi.

Roy Bryant and Milam later got Emmett off his bed, ordered him to get into the back of a pickup truck and beat him before shooting him in the head and throwing his body into the Tallahatchie River. But they were both acquitted of murder after a trial in which Carolyn Bryant testified that Emmett grabbed and verbally threatened her. The jury deliberated for barely an hour.

In 2007, a Mississippi Grand Jury declined to indict Donham. And according to archived FBI documents, Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested in 1955 on charges of kidnapping, but a grand jury couldn’t indict them. “The original court, prosecutor and investigative records related to the 1955 investigation are apparently lost,” the FBI said in a 2006 report.

Half-brothers Roy Bryant, left, and JW Milam, center, sit with a lawyer as they stand trial for the murder of Emmett Till.

Donham testified in 1955 that Emmett grabbed her hand and her waist and made her an offer, saying he’d been with “white women” before. But years later, when Professor Timothy Tyson put forward that testimony in a 2008 interview with Donham, he claimed she told him, “That part isn’t true.”

The prospect that the woman at the center of Emmett’s case had withdrawn her testimony — which the US Justice Department said in a memo would contradict statements she made to the FBI during the 1955 state trial and later — sparked calls for authorities to open an investigation. the case again.

Biden signs bill making lynching a federal hate crime into law

The DOJ, which had already re-examined and closed the case in 2007, reopened its investigation into Emmett’s murder in 2018. But the case was closed in December after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division concluded it could not prove that Donham had lied. . When questioned directly, Donham adamantly denied to investigators that she withdrew her testimony.

Emmett’s death drew attention far beyond Mississippi after a photo of his mutilated body was published in Jet Magazine and circulated around the world. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, had demanded that he hold an open casket funeral so the whole world could see her son’s injuries and the results of racist terrorism — a decision that fueled the civil rights movement.

However, Emmett’s legacy lives on: In March, President Joe Biden signed the groundbreaking Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which made lynching a federal hate crime.

CNN’s Devon Sayers, Elizabeth Joseph and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.