Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe without indictments

  • Written by Axios
  • Published in Politics
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The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.


  • His killing in part galvanized the civil rights movement, and highlighted injustices surrounding written and unwritten codes for Black people in the Jim Crow-era South.

Catch up quick: Till crossed paths with Carolyn Bryant Donham, who was then 20, in Mississippi at the grocery store she ran with her husband.

  • Donham testified that Till grabbed and propositioned her that day, while witness accounts said he whistled at her. Within days, Donham's husband and brother-in-law abducted and lynched Till after brutally mutilating his body.
  • An all-white jury cleared the two white men in 1955, though they admitted to killing Till in an interview a year later.
  • The DOJ launched its initial investigation in 2004 but concluded in 2007 that no one could be prosecuted based on existing evidence and the statute of limitations.
  • According to historian Timothy Tyson's 2017 book, Donham told him that trial testimony was false when they spoke in 2008.
  • After facing calls to re-open the case, federal investigators turned to Donham again, but she denied recanting her testimony.

Driving the news: The DOJ closed the probe after finding that her alleged recantation was not recorded or documented. Her family has denied that she walked back her accusation, per ABC...

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