Friday, June 03, 2005

emmett till's remarkably well preserved body is exhumed

the story below appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times two days ago. the fact that it took the federal government over 50 years to take this case seriously and do something about it epitomizes what's fundamentally wrong with this country in so many ways, it's dizzying. what's especially disgusting to me is that those racist southern whites have always claimed that it wasn't emmett till's body they found in the mississippi in the first place. they argued that since no one could identify the body, they couldn't accuse the two men of murdering him. the boy was so badly mutilated, his own mother could only identify him by a ring that he always wore. shockingly, there was no autopsy. after the trial, the two men returned home as heroes and then had the audacity to confess to the murder to a national magazine. from the newsclips i've seen and what i remember reading, they were totally blase about it and completely unrepentant. why did they do it, you ask? one of them had a young pretty wife, and emmett said hello to her. he was only 12 years old.

if you are any kind of an american at all and if you don't know who Emmett Till is, you really should read this article.

Perhaps Mamie Till Mobley is still protecting her son.

Her decision, in 1955, to display her murdered son Emmett's body under glass might have kept his remains intact until the day federal investigators were finally ready to investigate his death.

Officials and family members stood by Till's grave at Burr Oak Cemetery Wednesday morning as Till's body was exhumed.

"It was a moment," said Simeon Wright, who, 50 years ago was awakened by the sound of angry men wresting Till, his cousin, from the bed they were sharing. "After you pass through the sadness, it was a moment of triumph today."

Minister tells story of Lazarus

In a brief service before the exhumation, the Rev. Keith Hayes told the biblical story in which Jesus commanded the stone be rolled away from Lazarus' days-old tomb and the man emerged alive, still wearing his death shroud.

After the prayer service, the cement vault holding Till's casket was lifted from the ground.

For Wright, the connection was plain. Just as Lazarus had been preserved, his young cousin's grave seemed to have been protected.

"We were afraid that the original vault would crumble after 50 years," Wright said, "but it was perfectly intact."

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., after investigators spent about two hours photographing the vault, checking its seals and draining water from inside, the vault was topped with a protective cover, wrapped in a blue tarp and then placed on the back of a white flatbed truck, which made its way from the Alsip cemetery to Stroger Hospital, where a CT scan was performed.

No autopsy at the time

The body, still beneath the clear cover under which it was displayed at Till's 1955 funeral, was described by sources as being remarkably well-preserved. The grotesque swelling that disfigured Till's head had apparently receded, sources said, leading one official to remark that Till's body looked better Wednesday than it did 50 years ago.

The body is to be transferred to the Cook County medical examiner's office, where the medical examiner, Edmund R. Donoghue, is to perform an autopsy.

An autopsy is standard procedure in any apparent homicide, but none was performed when Till's body was found 50 years ago. That lapse allowed lawyers for the two men charged in Till's death, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, to successfully argue that, without a formal identification of the body and cause of death, the accused could not be convicted of murder. At the time, only Till's family identified the body.

The autopsy will definitively prove Till's identity; family members have already submitted DNA samples for comparison. The examination of Till's body might provide other information to investigators.

When NAACP leader Medgar Evers was exhumed 28 years after his death, an autopsy provided evidence that convicted Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder. Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist who performed Evers' autopsy, said no matter the condition of Till's body, bone injuries will be apparent, as will bullet holes and evidence of drowning.

Acquitted men admitted murder

When Till's body was shipped back to Chicago, by train, in 1955, funeral director A. A. Rayner was instructed to keep it permanently sealed. Till's Mississippi relatives had been required to sign papers agreeing to this condition before officials there would release the body.

But Till's mother refused to keep the agreement, demanding that the crate be opened and the body put on public display.

Rayner said at the time that he believed the body had been packed with lime to make it deteriorate faster. He did some work to prepare the body for viewing -- removing the boy's swollen tongue, sewing closed a gaping head wound, pushing an eyeball back into its socket and injecting some patches of skin with a preservation fluid -- but did not embalm the corpse, which was displayed under an airtight case. This could be good news for investigators because embalming can make accurate lab tests impossible.

The renewed investigation into the Till case was launched in May 2004, in hopes it might lead to additional prosecutions. Though Bryant and Milam, acquitted of murder and kidnapping charges by all-white juries, are dead, recent documentaries offered evidence that others, who are still alive, were involved in the death of Till, who was said to have "sassed" storekeeper Roy Bryant's young wife in rural Money, Miss.

According to Bryant and Milam's own account, given to Look Magazine after their trials, Till's murder was neither premeditated nor a conspiracy. The two men claimed that, after taking Till from his bed, they drove him around for a while, intending to scare him. They eventually brought him to a shed beside Milam's home in Glendora, where they beat and pistol-whipped him.

To their surprise, the men said, Till was defiant.

Enraged, the two men then drove Till -- battered, according to their account, but still conscious -- to a cotton gin, where they forced him to lift a large metal fan into the back of the truck. They took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River, told him to carry the fan to the edge of the river and then to strip naked.

Then, the two men said, Milam shot Till once in the head and the two men tied the fan around his neck to weigh down the body in the river, where it was recovered days later.

This account does not fully square with the damage visible on the recovered body. Till's head appeared to have been smashed with an ax and an ear had been cut off, as if extensive torture had occurred.

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