AP Was There: 2 men acquitted of the murder in Emmett Till case

SUMNER, Miss. – The federal government has reopened its investigation of the 1955 slaying of black teenager Emmett Till, a case that helped build the momentum for the civil rights movement. The move comes a year after a book about the case proved to be an important figure recognized.

The Associated Press is again a version of a report that followed the acquittal of the two men in the case. The following AP story is dated September 1955.


An all-white jury, which is composed mainly of Delta cotton farmers, acquitted two white shopkeepers of the murder of a 14-year-old Chicago Negro boy of yesterday, but the half-brother of the night spent in the prison.

Roy Bryant, 24, and John Milam, 36, still faced with the cost of the kidnapping of Emmett Louis Till of the sharecropper cabin in Leflore County where he was on holiday with his uncle, Mose Wright.

The two men tried in Tallahatchie County because a battered, bullet-pierced body was buried, as ‘ s, but later rejected by the jury, was fished from the mud of the Tallahatchie River in the county line.

Jury foreman J. A. Shaw said identification of the body was the decisive factor in the one hour and seven minute discussion that resulted in an innocent verdict on the third ballot.

“The verdict is just as shameful as it is shocking”, said the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in a statement from the un headquarters in New York. “The judges, that back deserves a medal from the Kremlin for meritorious service in communism, the war against democracy.”

Bryant and Milam spent the night in the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood when their lawyers conferred with the state officers about the amount of the bond required for their release under the actual cost.

They were taken into custody a few minutes after they embraced their women to be like Shaw intoned: “We, the jury, find the defendants not guilty.”

Both men accepted the decision willingly, just like the spectators, which is jammed in the cramped courtroom. Except for a loud exclamation, there was no demonstration.

The quiet announcement came as an anti-climax for the soaring oratory of the summarizing of the arguments that jury and the audience in full attention.

Shaw first said simply: “not guilty”, but Circuit Judge Curtis Swango, Jr., who won the praise from the NAACP for his handling of the trial, sent him back to try again in the correct legal language.

Mrs. Bryant, the beautiful mother of two boys, who testified a Negro man abused her on Aug. 24, said with a smile, relieved: “I am very happy. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday on the witness stand.”

Before the trial, the officers said the 21-year-old woman was the object of the wolf whistle. But on stage, as a defense witness, and she mentioned no names on the episode in the store. Her husband’s lawyers used this lack of identification requirements of the state: “Where is the motive?”

A part of her testimony was witness to the jury and she was never cross examined.

Two officers corroborated Wright’s testimony that Bryant and Milam kidnapped Till from the tenant shack near the small Delta town of Money where Bryant runs a general store. The officers said the men admitted that in the preliminary questions.

The entrepreneurs do not witness in their defense, but for the study they claimed to have released through unscathed because Mrs. Bryant said that he was not the Negro who grabbed her around the waist and an indecent proposal.

The state built its case around the eye witnesses, such as the 63-year-old Wright, the pre-dawn abduction, and around the testimony of a 13-year-old Negro boy who said that he heard “licks and hollering” from a barn owned by Milam’s brother in Sumner County.

Shaw said the jury ignored the testimony of the boy and was impressed with the appearance of Mrs. Mamie Bradley, Till’s mother, who came down from Chicago and tears penetrated the body of her son.

“There was a reasonable doubt,” said the jury foreman about the identification of the body.

The defense offered no evidence against the kidnap testimony, it is beyond dispute Wright’s ability to recognize faces in the pre-dawn dark with a flashlight shining in his face.

Instead, the emphasis was on the raising of doubt about the identification of the body that floated in drift in the murky river, with the emphasis on the simple theory of no body, no murder.

A sheriff, a doctor and a mortician testified the body she saw was in advanced state of decomposition and death anywhere from eight to 25 days. The element of time was important here. Only three days passed from the time Till was taken in the Delta darkness and a teen-aged fisherman sighted the dead body, weighted with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around the neck with barbed wire.

A ring on one of the inflated fingers bore the initials “L. T.” Mrs. Bradley said that it is her husband, and the boy had to catch the train for his holiday in the south.

The defense handled this by hinting that the anti-segregation groups were “capable of anything” in an attempt to destroy the southern way of life.

The first jury vote showed nine of the 12 for acquittal, with three undecided. On the next vote, one more came out for acquittal. The third ballot was unanimous.

Dist. Atty. Gerald Chatham had no quarrel with the ruling.

“The right of trial by jury,” said he, “Is a sacred guarantee of the Constitution of the United States. I accept it and stand by.” He did not elaborate.

In the all-Negro town of Mound Bayou, Miss., Mrs. Bradley said that she left before the jury came in — “I was expecting an acquittal, and I didn’t want to be there when it happened.”

She was joined by Rep. Charles Diggs, a Black congressman from Michigan who participated in the trial. If the NAACP, Diggs praised the judge and the prosecution, but sharp criticism of the defense witnesses and the jury.

The mother of the boy said that she was “a little surprised” by the brevity of the jury session.

The verdict is still unanswered is the question of what happened to Till. As the body drifted by the river was not of him, where is he? And that was the body found in the river?

Sheriff H. C. Strider of Tallahatchie County said that he would combine his research in an attempt to identify the body.

Dist. Atty. Stanny Sanders of Leflore County said he would seek a kidnap complaint at the November session of the Grand Jury.

The men were indicted for kidnapping by a Tallahatchie County Grand Jury, but the Judge Swango dropped the charges at the request of Chatham, when the neighbouring province of names authorized.

The charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

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