Emmett Till’s Family Seeks Arrest After 1955 Warrant Found

A search group comprised of Till's family members found the warrant charging Carolyn Bryant Donham of kidnapping.

Emmett Till’s Family Seeks Arrest After 1955 Warrant Found

Simeon Wright, the cousin of Emmett Till at the 50th Anniversary of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech, August 24, 2013 – Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Shutterstock)

By Murjani Rawls, The Root

A search group comprised of Emmett Till Legacy Foundation members found an unserved warrant charging Carolyn Bryant Donham — identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” in the 1955 kidnapping of the Mississippi teen. The Associated Press reports Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill said the group discovered the warrant last week inside a file folder that had been placed in a box. There has been an ongoing search for the warrant.

“They narrowed it down between the ’50s and ’60s and got lucky,” said Stockstill, who certified the warrant as genuine.

Two members of Till’s relatives’ cousin Deborah Watts, head of the foundation, and her daughter, Teri Watts, were a part of the Legacy foundation collective in the search party. Upon the discovery, the family has renewed calls for Donham to be arrested.

“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts told the AP in an interview. Watts also states that the Till family believes the newly discovered warrant accusing Donham of kidnapping should be considered new evidence.

A now 80-year-old Donham said to be living in North Carolina, has made public comments about the new prosecution claims. The Associated Press notes that District Attorney Dewayne Richardson’s office previously cited that they would prosecute the case. They did not offer any comments about the discovery of the 1955 warrant, but noted the Justice Department’s determination in December 2021 when they closed the investigation.

When the Associated Press asked Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks was asked about the discovery, he added, “this is the first time I’ve known about a warrant.”

From the Associated Press:

“I will see if I can get a copy of the warrant and get with the DA and get their opinion on it,” Banks said. If the warrant can still be served, Banks said, he would have to talk to law enforcement officers in the state where Donham resides.

As a law professor at the University of Mississippi, Ronald J. Rychlak points out that arrest warrants can “go stale” due to time and changing circumstances. However, if combined with new evidence, the 1955 warrant could be necessary for establishing a new basis for prosecution.

“If you went in front of a judge, you could say, ‘Once upon a time, a judge determined there was probable cause, and much more information is available today,’” Rychlak said.

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