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Men Exonerated for Assassination of Malcom X 55 Years Later

Photo Credit: Ed Ford, World Telegram  
Thanks in part to a Netflix series, two men who have long maintained their innocence were exonerated over half a century later Thursday in the killing of late civil rights icon Malcolm X.

Convicted in 1966 of the1965 assassination of the former Nation of Islam spokesman at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, Manhattan judge Ellen Biben vacated Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam's convictions citing evidence from a nearly two-year investigation that began when the Manhattan district attorney’s office reopened the case after Netflix aired the documentary series “Who Killed Malcom X?” in 2020.

"There can be no question this is a case that cries out for fundamental justice," Biben said before making the historic ruling.

“To Mr. Aziz and your family, and to the family or Mr. Islam, I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost,” the judge added.

The Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said there were two grounds for a motion to dismiss the charges: newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence. Because of that there must be one conclusion, "Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime."
“Since January 2020, my Office’s conviction integrity team has been reinvestigating this case in complete, open-file collaboration with the Innocence Project and the Shanies Law Office, who are joint counsel for Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam," Vance Jr. said, adding that the search for the truth was severely impacted by the passage of time as well as all of the eye-witnesses that testified at the trial. Still based on the materials they did have on hand, including some damning reports from the former director of the FBI, the men were unjustly charged.

“What we have obtained now in this reinvestigation are numerous materials that my office tragically did not have in 1965 and thus did not turn over to the defense. Most critically, we have obtained dozens and dozens of reports, from the FBI and the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations. These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other suspects," Vance Jr. said. "And, significantly, we now have reports revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants."

Aziz, 83, who was released in 1985 was in the courtroom for the verdict and said he did not need the prosectors or a piece of paper to tell him that he was innocent.

“I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system," he said. "I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm caused to me," adding that his wrongful conviction is one “that is all too familiar to Black people”.

Islam, unfortunately, died in 2009 after being released in 1987. Both continued to press to clear their names.

The third man who was convicted along with the duo, Mujahid Abdul Halim – also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan – said he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X and testified at the original trial neither Aziz nor Islam was involved. He was released from prison in 2010.

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