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FBI: No federal charges in Emmett Till slaying

The FBI said Thursday that no federal charges will be filed in the 1955 killing of  Emmett Till.
Emmett Till poses in Chicago about six months before he was murdered in 1955 while visiting Mississippi. AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The FBI said Thursday that no federal charges will be filed in the 1955 killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a case that helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

After a reopened investigation that included the exhumation of Till’s body for an autopsy last June, FBI agent John G. Raucci said in a statement that the five-year statute of limitations on federal civil rights violations had expired.

The FBI gave its long-awaited report to District Attorney Joyce L. Chiles, who will decide on any state charges. Chiles did not immediately return a call.

Raucci said the FBI would have no further comment on what is now a state case.

Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi in August 1955 when he was tortured and killed, purportedly for whistling at a white woman. The boy’s mother held an open-casket funeral, and a photo of Till’s disfigured face let the world see what was happening in the South.

In 1955, an all-white jury acquitted two white men, who later confessed to the killing in a magazine interview. They have since died.

The Justice Department reopened the case last year, prompted in part by a documentary that found investigative errors and concluded that some people still living were involved in the crime.

Law amended in 1994Before 1994, all federal criminal civil rights violations carried a five-year statute of limitations, even in cases involving death. In 1994, the law was amended to provide the death penalty in such cases, but the law cannot be applied retroactively, said FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden.

The FBI’s Raucci said the bureau would have no further comment on what is now a state case.

Till’s family said it had not expected any federal charges, so the news did not come as a disappointment.

“It’s up to Mrs. Chiles now and the state of Mississippi that’s been given a rare chance to redeem themselves,” said Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, who was with the teen the night of the murder. “They claim that they have changed. We’re going to see. We’re going to stand back and watch what happens.”

Unfinished business
In recent years, law enforcement authorities have been trying to complete unfinished business from the civil rights era.

In 1994, Mississippi won the conviction of Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 sniper killing of NAACP leader Medgar Evers.

In Alabama, Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in 2002 of killing four black girls in the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963. In 2001, Thomas Blanton was convicted.

And Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman, was convicted last June of manslaughter in the killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.