FBI finishes its probe of Till murder

November 24, 2005|By CHARLES SHEEHAN | CHARLES SHEEHAN,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Federal investigators have wrapped up an investigation into the murder 50 years ago of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who was tortured and killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at or making advances to 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 District Attorney Joyce Chiles as early as next month, 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, I really do," she said. "I do know that we'll be putting in some weekends. The documentation on this is extensive."

Emmett Till's brutal slaying in 1955 galvanized the civil rights movement. He was visiting relatives near Money, Miss., when he allegedly spoke to or 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, although they later acknowledged in an interview that they killed the teenager.

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 who are still alive were involved in the murder.

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

Sykes praised the FBI's work.

"We firmly hope and believe the completion of this FBI investigation represents a thorough and fair investigation that was promised to [Till's mother] before she passed," he said. "We've moved one step forward to finding justice and pursuing the truth."

Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago, died in 2003 at age 81.

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 murder trial 50 years ago. He said he doesn'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."

Charles Sheehan writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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