Emmett Till was buried September 6 in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The same day, Bryant and Milam were indicted by a grand jury.
When Mamie Till came to Mississippi to testify at the trial, she stayed in the home of Dr. T.R.M. Howard in the all-black town of Mound Bayou. Others staying in Howard's home were black reporters, such as Cloyte Murdock of Ebony Magazine, key witnesses, and Congressman Charles Diggs of Michigan, the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Howard was a major civil rights leader and fraternal organization official in Mississippi, the head of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), and one of the wealthiest blacks in the state.
The day before the trial, Frank Young, a black farm worker, came to Howard's home. He said that he had information indicating that Milam and Bryant had help in their crime. Young's allegations sparked an investigation that led to unprecedented cooperation between local law enforcement, the NAACP, the RCNL, black journalists, and local reporters. The trial began on September 19. Moses Wright, Emmett's great-uncle, was one of the main witnesses called up to speak. Pointing to one of the suspected killers, he said "Dar he," to refer to the man who had killed his nephew.
Another key witness for the prosecution was Willie Reed, an 18-year-old high school student who lived on a plantation near Drew, Mississippi in Sunflower County. The prosecution had located him thanks to the investigation sparked by Young's information. Reed testified that he had seen a pickup truck outside of an equipment shed on a plantation near Drew managed by Leslie Milam, a brother of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. He said that four whites, including J.W. Milam, were in the cab and three blacks were in the back, one of them Till. When the truck pulled into the shed, he heard human cries that sounded like a beating was underway. He did not identify the other blacks on the truck.
On September 23 the all-white jury, made up of 12 males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said, "If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have taken that long."The hasty acquittal outraged people throughout the United States and Europe and energized the nascent Civil Rights Movement.
Even by the time of the trial, Howard and black journalists such as James Hicks of the Baltimore Afro-American named several blacks who had allegedly been on the truck near Drew, including three employees of J.W. Milam: Henry Lee Loggins, Levi 'Too-Tight' Collins, and Joe Willie Hubbard. They were never called to testify. In the months after the trial, both Hicks and Howard called for a federal investigation into charges that Sheriff H.C. Strider had locked Collins and Loggins in jail to keep them from testifying.
Following the trial, Look Magazine paid J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant $4,000 to tell their story. Safe from any further charges for their crime due to double jeopardy protection, Bryant admitted to journalist William Bradford Huie that he and his brother had killed Till. Milam claimed that initially their intention was to scare Till into line by pistol-whipping him and threatening to throw him off a cliff. Milam explained that contrary to expectations, regardless of what they did to Till, he never showed any fear, never seemed to believe they would really kill him, and maintained a completely unrepentant, insolent, and defiant attitude towards them concerning his actions. Thus the brothers said they felt they were left with no choice but to fully make an example of Till, and they killed him. The story focused exclusively on the role of Milam and Bryant in the crime and did not mention any possible part played by others in the crime. The article was published in Look in January 1956. While some found it repugnant that Look had paid these men $4,000, the editorial position was that the good of getting the public to know the truth outweighed the bad of these men being paid a lot of money.
In February 1956 Howard's version of the events of the kidnapping and murder, which stressed the possible involvement of Hubbard and Loggins, appeared in the booklet Time Bomb: Mississippi Exposed and the Full Story of Emmett Till by Olive Arnold Adams. At the same time a still unidentified white reporter using the pseudonym Amos Dixon wrote a series of articles in the California Eagle. The series put forward essentially the same thesis as Time Bomb but offered a more detailed description of the possible role of Loggins, Hubbard, Collins, and Leslie Milam. Time Bomb and Dixon's articles had no lasting impact in the shaping of public opinion. Huie's article in the far more widely circulated Look became the most commonly accepted version of events.
In 1957 Huie returned to the story for Look in an article that indicated that local residents were shunning Milam and Bryant and that their stores were closed due to a lack of business.
Milam died of cancer in 1980 and Bryant died of cancer in 1994. The men never expressed any remorse for Till's death and seemed to feel that they had done no wrong. In fact, a few months before he died, Bryant complained bitterly in an interview that he had never made as much money off Till's death as he deserved and that it had ruined his life. Emmett's mother Mamie (as Mamie Till Mobley) outlived both men, dying at the age of 81 on January 6, 2003. That same year her autobiography Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America (One World Books, co-written with Christopher Benson) was published.
In 1991, a seven-mile stretch of 71st street in Chicago was renamed "Emmett Till Road," after the slain child. In 2006 a Mississippi historical marker marking the place of Till's death was defaced, and in August 2007 it went missing.Less than a week later a replica was put up in its place.
In 2001, David T. Beito, associate professor at the University of Alabama and Linda Royster Beito, chair of the department of social sciences at Stillman College, were the first investigators in many decades to track down and interview on tape two key principals in the case: Henry Lee Loggins and Willie Reed. They were doing research for their biography of T.R.M. Howard. In his interview with the Beitos, Loggins denied that he had any knowledge of the crime or that he was one of the black men on the truck outside of the equipment shed near Drew. Reed repeated the testimony that he had given at the trial, that he had seen three black men and four white men (including J.W. Milam) on the truck. When asked to identify the black men, however, he did not name Loggins as one of them. The Beitos also confirmed that Levi 'Too-Tight' Collins, another black man allegedly on this car, had died in 1993.
In 1996, Keith Beauchamp started background research for a feature film he planned to make about Till's murder, and asserted that as many as 14 individuals may have been involved. While conducting interviews he also encountered eyewitnesses who had never spoken out publicly before. As a result he decided to produce a documentary instead, and spent the next nine years creating The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The film led to calls by the NAACP and others for the case to be reopened. The documentary included lengthy interviews with Loggins and Reed, both of whom the Beitos had first tracked down and interviewed in 2001. Loggins repeated his denial of any knowledge of the crime. Beauchamp has consistently refused to name the fourteen individuals who he asserts took part in the crime, including the five who he claims are still alive.
On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant was involved. Although the statute of limitations prevented charges being pursued under federal law, they could be pursued before the state court, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials in Mississippi worked jointly on the investigation. As no autopsy had been performed on Till's body, it was exhumed on May 31, 2005 from the suburban Chicago cemetery where it was buried, and the Cook County coroner then conducted the autopsy. The body was reburied by relatives on June 4. It has been positively identified as that of Emmett Till.
In February 2007, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that both the FBI and a Leflore County Grand Jury, which was empaneled by Joyce Chiles, a black prosecutor, had found no credible basis for Keith Beauchamp's claim that 14 individuals took part in Till's abduction and murder or that any are still alive. The Grand Jury also decided not to pursue charges against Carolyn Bryant Donham, Roy Bryant's ex-wife. Neither the FBI nor the Grand Jury found any credible evidence that Henry Lee Loggins, now living in an Ohio nursing home, and identified by Beauchamp as a suspect who could be charged, had any role in the crime. Other than Loggins, Beauchamp still refuses to name the 14 people who he says were involved although the FBI and District Attorney have completed their investigations of his charges and he is free to go on the record. A story by Jerry Mitchell in the Clarion-Ledger on February 18 describes Beauchamp's allegation that 14 or more were involved as a legend.
The same article also labels as legend a rumor that Till had endured castration at the hands of his victimizers. The castration theory was first put forward uncritically in Beauchamp's "Untold Story" although Mamie Till-Mobley (Emmett's mother) had said in an earlier documentary directed by Stanley Nelson, "The Murder of Emmett Till," (2003) that her son's genitals were intact when she examined the corpse. The recent autopsy, as reported by Mitchell, confirmed Mobley-Till's original account and showed no evidence of castration.
In March 2007, Till's family was briefed by the FBI on the contents of its investigation. The FBI report released on March 29, 2007 found that Till had died of a gunshot wound to the head and that he had broken wrist bones and skull and leg fractures.