The DOJ’s Strange Waste of Time in the Emmett Till Case


By Daniel Greenfield



The DOJ has yet to seriously investigate or hold any of the governors responsible for forcing nursing homes to accept infected COVID patients, but it’s got time for assorted wild goose chases.

The Justice Department has officially closed its investigation into the infamous killing of Emmett Till without federal charges for a second time, leaving only more questions after a potentially significant claim from one of the last living witnesses led investigators on a fresh hunt for evidence.

The Emmett Till case is quite famous. But we know who killed him. We’ve known for some 65 years. Both men, I believe are dead. While it’s possible that other men were involved, they would be in their eighties now.

And the DOJ investigation wasn’t even based around finding them.

In 2017, professor Timothy Tyson unearthed what appeared to be a key piece of evidence in one of the most haunting and grisly murders documented in the Jim Crow Era: a recantation from the woman at the center of the case who had accused Till of making sexual advances at her over 60 years ago.

Yet after an exhaustive investigation, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has now concluded it cannot prove the woman lied to federal investigators about her story.

Carolyn Bryant Donham is in her eighties and whether or not she told the truth about Emmett has rather little bearing on anything. Donham supposedly did not want to tell her husband the story so as not to set him off. She was probably a domestic abuse victim afraid of her husband’s temper. Any possible case for prosecuting her would involve what she told the FBI after Emmett’s murder.

Donham later testified in 1955 that Till grabbed her hand, her waist, and propositioned her, saying that he had been with “white women before.” Yet when that trial testimony was raised with her years later in a 2008 interview, Tyson claimed Donham told him: “That part’s not true.”

Whether or not it happened, didn’t justify Emmett Till’s murder.

The possibility of prosecuting a woman in her 80s based on contradictions with her present-day recollections long after the statute of limitations had run out was always a surreal wild goose chase.

“A recantation would directly contradict both her testimony at the state proceedings in 1955 and the statements she provided to the FBI during the previous investigation,” the Justice Department explained in the memo Monday.

Yet when questioned directly, Donham adamantly denied to investigators that she had recanted her testimony.

And other investigators ran into additional evidentiary problems.

The most damning statements Tyson attributed to Donham were not recorded or transcribed, and he gave authorities inconsistent statements on whether a recording had ever been made, the department said. Tyson took some notes of their conversation, but he did not provide a firm timeline of when her confession reportedly happened.

So this investigation was reopened based on notes, but no actual recording. It goes without saying that giving “inconsistent statements” can get you indicted when you’re on the wrong side of the political line, but be that as it may, there really was no point to this. Except for politics.

Reopening the case in 2004 may have been viable, but by now the persons of interest are dead.

Justice Department officials, including the head of the Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, flew to Chicago to brief Till’s remaining family members in person on Monday on what investigators had found and the decision to close the case, according to sources familiar with the matter.

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