GUILTY! Eighth grade lawyers find justice in Emmett Till case
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Sheriff Tyson Pogue presents the jury photographic evidence in the murder trial of Emmet Till. Judge Ernest LiCalsi is seen in the background.
One day after U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, a team of student prosecutors proved in court that Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were guilty of his murder.
Under the watchful eyes of Madera County Superior Court Judge Ernest LiCalsi and Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue, jury foreperson, Gloria Brown, president of the Madera chapter of the NAACP, announced the verdict.
The student prosecutors have been preparing for the trial for several months after they discovered Bryant and Milam had been freed by a Mississippi jury and then confessed to the 1955 crime in a Look Magazine article. The young historians came upon the Till case while investigating Jim Crow violence.
Wednesday’s trial, which took place in the courtroom of the Madera Courthouse Museum, was called to order by Sheriff Pogue at ten o’clock, while Judge LiCalsi took his place on the bench.
Lead prosecutors Sarah Guglielmana and Hassani Heard (Eastin-Arcola and La Vina schools, respectively) were introduced. Heard made the opening statement for the prosecution and then called 10 of his fellow prosecutors who presented, what he termed “incontrovertible,” evidence that Bryant and Milam tortured and then murdered Emmett Till.
Nicole Cuadras explained why Emmett left his home in Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi in 1955. Junior Diaz and Oliver Buchanan told how Till went with his cousins Simion Wright and Wheeler Parker to Bryant’s store in Money Mississippi, and Gueorgina Bojorquez told how Emmett made a fateful mistake at the store by whistling at Carolyn Bryant.
Alvaro Ruiz explained how the killers came to the Wright home and kidnapped Emmett. Angel Paramo told of Willie Reed hearing Emmett’s screams while being tortured. Christopher Toreno gave the testimony of B.L. Mims who pulled Emmett’s battered body from the Tallahatchie River. Kevin Camarillo-Chavez and
Quinten Priessman submitted articles from two reporters who covered the Till trial. Sarah Guglielmana gave that “incontrovertible” evidence of the guilt of the killers by citing their Look Magazine confession.
Before the closing statements, Alex Prim made a powerful presentation of photographic evidence, including a picture of Emmett Till’s beaten and bruised body in an open casket.
While the jury deliberated, MUSD Superintendent Todd Lile recognized district administrators and community leaders who were in attendance. Lile also had high praise for the students and their teachers, Samuel Colunga and Scott Gandy.
Following Lile’s remarks, Sheriff Pogue announced the jury had a verdict. As the conscience of the court returned to the jury box, the student prosecutors stood in respect. Foreperson Gloria Brown then gave the verdict — guilty as charged. An explosion of applause greeted the jury’s decision.
Following the verdict, Judge LiCalsi permitted the jurors to rise individually in support of the case that had been laid before them.
At that point, Marcella Andrews, who at the age of 17 attended the funeral of Emmett Till in Chicago, described that experience. Andrews was a member of the Church of God in Christ where the service was held.
LiCalsi then pronounced sentence. “It is the judgment of this court that an egregious miscarriage of justice has been rectified. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam have been found guilty of the murder of Emmett Till. Today’s trial now becomes an official part of history. Notice of this verdict will be transmitted to the American Historical Association, and a transcript of this trial will also be forwarded to the California Secretary of State for inclusion into the State Archives.”
Licalsi then adjourned the court and the trial was over.