July 12, 2018 / 10:44 AM / a year ago

U.S. reopens 1955 case on murdered black teen Emmett Till

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has reopened an investigation into the 1955 killing of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi, saying it had discovered new information in the case, which helped spark the nation’s civil rights movement.

The report, sent by the U.S. Department of Justice to Congress earlier this year as part of an annual review of unsolved civil rights crimes, was first reported by the Associated Press earlier on Thursday.

In it, the department said it had revived the probe but could give no additional information because the matter was ongoing. It also said it was referring two other Mississippi murder cases to state prosecutors.

In August 1955, Till was beaten, shot and mutilated in Money, Mississippi, four days after it was alleged that the black 14-year-old from Chicago had flirted with a white woman.

The woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam were charged with Till’s murder, but the two white men were later acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury. The pair later confessed in a paid magazine interview to abducting and killing the teenager. The two men have since died, in 1994 and 1981, respectively.

“We are happy that they got new evidence to reopen the case. It’s just kind of sad that it’s taken so long,” Charles Hampton, president of the Mississippi NAACP, told Reuters.

The federal case regarding Till was closed in 2007 after the Justice Department had earlier concluded it could no longer prosecute the case. It was referred the district attorney in Mississippi, where a grand jury declined to issue new charges, the department said.

Interest in the case was revived in 2017 with the publication of the book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” which reportedly quotes the white woman in the case, Carolyn Bryant Donham, saying she had lied when she testified against Till.

Donham could not be immediately reached for comment. The AP said a man who answered the door at the residence listed for Donham, 84, declined to comment.

News of the historical case’s reopening comes as the nation decades later is still grappling with race and law enforcement issues. Racial divisions have also risen amid President Donald Trump’s heated rhetoric, including comments in the wake of a white nationalist rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia

FILE PHOTO: Friends and family watch as members of the FBI evidence response team exhumes the body of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, June 1, 2005. REUTERS/Frank Polich/File Photo

Police killings of black men in U.S. cities in recent years has spurred debate about racial bias in the criminal justice system. Social media videos have also drawn attention to people calling police to report black Americans doing ordinary activities such as mowing lawns and swimming in community pools.

In its report, the department said it had also referred two other civil-rights era cases to state prosecutors, including the infamous “Mississippi Burning” case involving the murder of three civil rights workers in the so-called Freedom Summer of 1964.

It also sent the case of the 1959 Halloween killing of a 13-year-old black child by a group of white teenagers in Mississippi. While the shooter pleaded guilty, none of the others were prosecuted, the report said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Bernie Woodall; additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis

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