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2 Men Convicted of Killing Malcolm X Will Be Exonerated After Decades

Two of the three men convicted for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X are set to be exonerated this week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam are expected to have their charges thrown out after a 22-month investigation conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the men found that the F.B.I and the NYPD withheld key evidence that would have likely led to the men’s acquittal.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office along with the Innocence Project and the office of David Shanies, a civil rights lawyer, conducted a review of the case in early 2020 after a Netflix documentary raised serious questions about the innocence of Aziz, known at the time as Norman 3X Butler, and Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson.

The lengthy re-investigation met many obstacles, such as witnesses, investigators and other potential suspects having died long ago, key documents being lost in time, and physical evidence, such as the murder weapon, no longer being available for testing.

Even with significant obstacles, the evidence discovered was substantial.

The investigation uncovered F.B.I documents that included information implicating other suspects and pointing away from Aziz and Islam. Prosecutors’ notes revealed that they failed to disclose the presence of undercover police officers in the ballroom at the time of the shooting. Police files showed that a reporter from The New York Daily News received a call the morning of the shooting indicating that Malcolm X would be murdered that day.

An interview with a living witness, known only as J.M. backed up Aziz’s alibi that he had been home nursing his wounded legs during the time of the shooting.

Aziz, Islam, and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, were found guilty of the murder in March 1966 and sentenced to life in prison a month later.

Both Aziz and Islam denied they were involved in the assassination. Halim confessed to the murder and vouched for both men, testifying that they had “nothing to do with it,” according to the criminal justice group the Innocence Project.

The two men spent more than 20 years in prison for the murder, which took place on Feb. 21, 1965. Aziz, 83, was released on parole in 1985. Islam, who died in 2009 at age 79, was released on parole in 1987. Halim, 80, was released on parole in 2010.

The re-investigation found that the new evidence may have led to Aziz’s and Islam’s acquittals if presented to a jury at the time.

“This wasn’t a mere oversight,” said Deborah Francois, a lawyer for the men. “This was a product of extreme and gross official misconduct.”

Vance apologized on behalf of law enforcement, saying they failed the families of the two men. Those failures, he said, could not be remedied, “but what we can do is acknowledge the error, the severity of the error.”

“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance said. “These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”

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