Justice Department Finds No Proof Emmett Till’s Accuser Lied
A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery May 4, 2005 in Aslip, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s been 66 years since 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten and shot in the head after a white woman accused him of whistling at her and touching her in a store in Mississippi in 1955. Even now, the case is still finding ways to disappoint.

It appears that in 2017, federal investigators began looking into whether Till’s accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham, admitted to lying about what, if anything, actually happened between her and Till. That investigation ended Monday, NBC News reported, with the U.S. Department of Justice apparently failing to find evidence that Donham had lied. From the outlet:

Donham was reported to have recanted her story to the author Timothy B. Tyson, telling him she lied about the incident.

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she was alleged to have told Tyson while describing her “sorrow” for Till’s mother.

But Donham denied to federal investigators that she lied in her testimony, a source with knowledge of the case said, and there were inconsistencies with statements made by Tyson. Justice Department officials plan to release a memo after they brief Till’s family in Chicago, the source added.

Tyson, of course, stands by his reporting, telling the outlet that Donham was not a reliable witness.

“Carolyn Bryant denies it and avoids talking about it like it was the plague,” Tyson said. “I am standing in the public square telling the truth as I see it based on solid evidence.”

He added that nothing he reported was new, since “we have long known she was lying.” He told NBC that his book contained pages of documented evidence that the FBI collected when it had re-opened the Till case in 2004.

“Let us just look at the evidence as if I had never talked to Carolyn,” Tyson said. “That she lied in court does not depend on her admission of it to me, not at all.”

The DOJ, however, said it found no evidence Donham had ever lied, closing the case without any arrests. In its case document, the DOJ said it could not prosecute Donham or anyone else because it had “not uncovered any new evidence that would change its conclusion from its 2004 investigation that it was not able to bring federal charges against [Donham] in connection with Till’s abduction and murder.”

Another issue the DOJ faced was that the statute of limitations has run out for all “potential federal crimes that could apply to Till’s abduction and murder, and there is no other potential basis for federal jurisdiction,” the Department said. This includes prosecuting Donham for allegedly lying on the stand or making false allegations against Till.

Till was brutally beaten and shot in the head by J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, Donham’s then-husband, after she made the allegations against him. They were arrested but acquitted by an all-white male jury in Mississippi in an era before the Civil Rights movement, so no one has been held accountable for one of the most famous potentially false accusations of misconduct of all time.

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