May 5, 2005

From ABC Affiliate, Channel 7, Chicago


Emmett Till's Kin Oppose FBI Exhumation


CHICAGO (AP) - Many of Emmett Till's relatives oppose FBI (website) plans to exhume the boy's remains nearly 50 years after he was killed in one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era, one family member said Thursday. Another cousin said he supports the investigation. Bertha Thomas, president of the Emmett Till Foundation, said she was speaking for a majority of the family in saying she would rather see the newly reopened probe end than allow the body to be exhumed.

"They had over 40 years to do this, and my major question to the FBI, the Department of Justice and anybody else involved, is why now?" said Thomas, a distant cousin who knew Till's mother.

Thomas was joined at a news conference by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said some people believe the FBI is grandstanding.

"Emmett Till is a great symbol, but he should not be a trophy," the civil rights leader said.

Phone messages left Thursday with the Department of Justice and the FBI were not immediately returned.

The FBI said Wednesday it planned to exhume Till's body from a Chicago-area cemetery within the next few weeks for an autopsy to confirm the identification of the badly mutilated body and determine the cause of death. An autopsy might also turn up evidence, such as a bullet, the agency said.

Till was visiting an uncle in the small Mississippi Delta town of Money in 1955 when he was abducted from the home and killed, reportedly for whistling at a white woman.

Two white men charged with Till's murder - store owner Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam - were acquitted by an all-white jury. The two, now dead, later confessed in a Look magazine article.

The Justice Department announced plans last year to reopen the investigation, citing information including a documentary that claimed to have found new evidence.

Till's body was unrecognizable when it was found. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, was only able to identify him from a ring on his finger. An autopsy was never conducted.

A cousin who was with Till the night he was taken said the exhumation is needed.

"It's definitely part of the puzzle because in 1955 the defense said (the victim) wasn't Emmett Till," said Simeon Wright, now 62.

William Haglund, a forensic anthropologist and director of the International Forensic Program for Physicians for Human Rights, said investigators probably will be able to identify the body, but determining a cause of death may be more difficult.

"We're always at the mercy of the condition of the remains," Haglund said. "Sometimes, after 13 years, I have seen soft tissue on well-embalmed bodies. And where you have soft tissue you can sometimes see bruises. ... You can't really predict what you are going to find."

Emmett Till