Rumors are swirling that the U.S. Justice department will reopen the infamous Emmet Till case.
The revelation came a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed his support for pursuing and prosecuting killers who went unpunished in the civil rights era. “He said no one gets a pass,” said Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts, who met with Sessions.
Till’s killers were never convicted. The African-American teenager from Chicago, who was visiting family in Mississippi, was killed three days after he reportedly wolf-whistled at a white woman.
Justice officials are exploring the possibility of reopening the Till case because Carolyn Bryant Donham has admitted she lied when she testified that he touched her — a lie she repeated to the FBI a decade ago.
Donham admitted her lie to Timothy B. Tyson, author of the new book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.”
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Donham was quoted as saying.
“The Department is currently assessing whether the newly revealed statement could warrant additional investigation,” Acting Assistant Attorney General T.E. Wheeler II wrote U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson in a letter.
Wheeler warned against raised expectations.
“We caution, however, that even with our best efforts, investigations into historic cases are exceptionally difficult, and there may be insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers to bringing federal charges against any remaining living persons,” he wrote.
The 14-year-old Till reportedly wolf-whistled at Donham, then married to Roy Bryant, on Aug. 24, 1955.
On Aug. 28, 1955, Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Till from the home of his uncle, Mose Wright.
Three days later, the body of the Chicago teen was found floating in the Tallahatchie River, a 75-pound gin fan tied to his neck. He had been brutally beaten and shot in the head.
To show the horror done to her son, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, told the funeral home to leave the casket open.
More than 100,000 African-Americans passed by, some weeping, some gasping, some fainting — all moved by the gruesome slight.
After the arrest of Bryant and Milam, Donham told defense lawyers that Till “insulted” her, according to notes obtained by The Clarion-Ledger.
With the jury outside the courtroom, she was able to testify for the record.
She told those present that Till grabbed her, asked for a date and said he had been “with white women before.”
On Sept. 23, 1955, the all-white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of murder. Months later, the half-brothers confessed to Look magazine they had indeed killed Till.
After the FBI reopened the case in 2004, agent Dale Killinger spoke to Donham, who divorced Bryant in 1975 and later remarried.
In 2007, a majority-black grand jury in Greenwood, Miss., declined to indict her, considering charges ranging from aiding and abetting murder to accessory after the fact. The FBI closed the case.
Sykes said Sessions expressed his support for the new Till Bill, which paves the way for the Justice Department to pursue civil rights cold cases dating back before 1980.
“Where he can, he wants to prosecute these unsolved cases,” Sykes said. “He said that he will be working with us in terms of coming up with the cases.”