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Federal Report on 1955 Murder Going to the D.A.

Emmett Till's slaying case was reopened in 2004 when questions arose about whether more people still alive had been involved.

November 24, 2005|Charles Sheehan | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Federal investigators have wrapped up an inquiry into the murder 50 years ago of Emmett Till, a teenager from Chicago who was tortured and killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

"The investigation is concluded, and the report is almost done," said Mike Turner, legal counsel for the FBI in Jackson, Miss.

Results from the 18-month murder investigation could be in the hands of Mississippi Dist. Atty. Joyce Chiles by December, Turner said.

Chiles, who has a small staff operating out of three offices in one of the most crime-ridden regions of Mississippi, said during a recent interview that reviewing the FBI investigation would require an extensive effort.

"I expect it will take me and my staff weeks to go over all of the evidence that's been compiled," she said. "I do know that we'll be putting in some weekends. The documentation on this is extensive."

Till's slaying in 1955 galvanized the civil rights movement. He was visiting relatives near Money, Miss., when he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a clerk at Bryant's Grocery and wife of owner Roy Bryant.

Several days later, Till, 14, was rousted from bed at his uncle's home. His mutilated body was found later in the Tallahatchie River, tied with barbed wire to a large fan from a cotton gin.

Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were tried for the murder and acquitted by an all-white jury, though they later acknowledged in an interview that they had killed the boy.

Both men are now dead.

Prosecutors reopened the case in May 2004 after Alvin Sykes, president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, and Keith Beauchamp, a documentary filmmaker, raised questions about whether others were involved and were still alive.

Beauchamp, reached in Norway, where his film "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till" was showing at the Oslo International Film Festival, said he was happy that the FBI report would be in the hands of the district attorney soon.

"This has been my life for the last decade, and my emotions are running very high," he said Wednesday.

"I'm praying for Joyce Chiles. I know she has a lot of weight on her shoulders."

There are several people still alive whose names have been tied to the case, though some people who have followed the Till investigation closely believe new charges are unlikely.

David Beito, who teaches urban and social history at the University of Alabama, has spoken to some of the people who testified at the Till trial 50 years ago. He said he didn't think Milam and Bryant acted alone, but finding anyone still alive who did participate, and proving it, would be "nearly impossible."

The district attorney's office was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, but in a recent interview, Chiles said, "We will prosecute this case if, after looking at all the documents, there is someone to prosecute."

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