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CHICAGO (CBS Chicago / CBS News / AP) –Monday night was difficult for Emmett Till’s family, after federal investigators told them there would be no new charges in the murder of the Chicago teenager in 1955.

The Justice Department has officially closed its latest investigation into the murder of Till, a black teenager who was kidnapped, tortured and killed after witnesses said he hissed a white woman in Mississippi.

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The department made the announcement Monday after meeting with members of the Till family in Illinois.

One of the family members present at the meeting “had witnessed the events leading up to Till’s kidnapping and murder,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The purpose of the meeting was to explain the reasons for the closure of the investigation and to give the family an opportunity to ask questions about the investigation and the department’s findings,” the statement added.

The department reopened an investigation after a 2017 book cited a key figure, Carolyn Bryant Donham, as saying she lied when she claimed that Till, 14, had grabbed her, hissed, and slapped her. sexual advances while working in a store in the small community of Argent. Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is 80, retracted his claims about Till.

The murder galvanized the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted that a coffin be opened, and Jet magazine published photos of her brutalized body.

Days after Till’s death, his body was removed from the Tallahatchie River, where it was dumped after being weighted down with a cotton fan.

Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, were tried for murder about a month after Till’s murder, but an all-white Mississippi jury acquitted them. Months later, they confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. Bryant was married to Donham in 1955.

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The Justice Department opened an investigation into Till’s murder in 2004 after receiving inquiries about whether charges could be laid against anyone still alive. The department said the statute of limitations has run out for any potential federal crimes, but the FBI has been working with state investigators to determine if state charges can be laid. In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury refused to indict anyone and the Justice Department announced it was closing the case.

Bryant and Milam weren’t brought to justice again, and they’re now both dead. Donham lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Justice Department, in its statement on Monday, noted that there was no federal hate crimes law on the books in 1955.

The FBI launched a Cold Case Initiative in 2006 to investigate racially motivated murders committed decades earlier. A federal law named after Till allows for a review of murders that had not been solved or prosecuted to the point of conviction.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act requires the Department of Justice to submit an annual report to Congress. No report was filed in 2020, but a report filed in June this year said the department was still investigating Till’s kidnapping and murder.

The FBI investigation included an interview with Rev. Wheeler Parker, who previously told the AP in an interview that he heard his cousin whistle the woman at a store in Money, Mississippi, but the teenager did had done nothing to justify being killed.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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