Official reveals renewed Till probe prompted by 2017 book
A renewed investigation into the brutal slaying of Emmett Till was prompted by a 2017 book that revealed lies by a key figure in the 1955 case that helped build momentum for the civil-rights movement, a federal official said Thursday.
A federal official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that information published in the book led federal investigators to re-examine the case. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
The reopening of the Till case was revealed in a federal report sent to lawmakers in March that said the Justice Department had received unspecified “new information.”
The book “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy B. Tyson quotes a white woman, Carolyn Donham, as saying during a 2008 interview that she wasn’t truthful when she testified that the black teen grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances at a Mississippi store in 1955.
Tyson told reporters Thursday that he was contacted by the FBI weeks after his book was published in January 2017, and he furnished them interview recordings and other research materials. He doesn’t think his research alone would support new charges but said investigators may be able to link it to other material in their possession.
“It’s possible that the investigation will turn up something. But there’s nothing that I know of, and nothing in my research, that is actionable, I don’t think,” he said. “But I’m not an attorney or a detective.”
A potential witness with the 14-year-old Till in the store that day, cousin Wheeler Parker, said Thursday that he has talked with law enforcement about the case in recent months.
A Mississippi prosecutor declined to comment on whether federal authorities had given him new information since they reopened the investigation.
“It’s probably always an open case until all the parties have passed away,” said District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, whose circuit includes the community where Till was abducted.
It’s unclear what new charges could result from a renewed investigation, said Tucker Carrington, a professor at the University of Mississippi law school.
Conspiracy or murder charges could be filed if anyone still alive is shown to have been involved, he said, but too much time likely has passed to prosecute anyone for other crimes, such as lying to investigators or in court.
The case was closed in 2007 with authorities saying the suspects were dead; a state grand jury didn’t file any new charges.
Two white men – Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half brother, J.W. Milam – were charged with murder but acquitted in the slaying of Chicago teen Till, who had been staying with relatives in northern Mississippi at the time. The men later confessed the crime in a magazine interview but weren’t retried. Both are now dead.
Donham, who turns 84 this month, lives in Raleigh, N.C. A man who came to the door at her residence declined to comment about the FBI reopening the investigation.
“We don’t want to talk to you,” the man said before going back inside.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the status of the investigation. Relatives of Till pushed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reopen the case last year after publication of the book.