55 years after Malcolm X’s assassination, Netflix documentary triggers reinvestigation

Mohammed Awal Feb 11, 2020 at 10:30am

February 11, 2020 at 10:30 am | News

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

February 11, 2020 at 10:30 am | News

Image source: GettyImages

Fifty-five years after the gruesome assassination of Malcolm X, a Netflix documentary series has triggered the possibility of reinvestigating the case.

The six-part documentary titled “Who killed Malcolm X?” raised teething questions about how the case was handled, suggesting there were attempts to shield real perpetrators of the crime.

According to the documentary, two of the men convicted for the assassination couldn’t have been at the scene of the crime that day.

The series, which features historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, points the finger at four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, N.J. According to the New York Times, one even appeared in a 2010 campaign ad for then-Newark mayor Cory Booker.

Booker is now the Senator for New Jersey. He has held this position since 2013 representing the Democratic Party.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said Monday it would review the case after the new information came to the fore following the streaming of the documentary on February 7.

Three Nation of Islam members were held responsible for the 1965 shooting and convicted in 1966. Mujahid Abdul Halim (known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Muhammad Abdul Aziz (known as Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (known as Thomas 15X Johnson) were sentenced to life in prison.

Aziz and Islam, for years, denied their involvement, a denial corroborated by Halim who said in an affidavit in 1978 that the two were innocent.

In his affidavit, Halim disclosed that he was aided by four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, N.J. to commit the crime.

Aziz and Islam were freed from prison in the 1980s. Islam died in 2009 and Aziz is 81 years old.

“Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has met with representatives from the Innocence Project and associated counsel regarding this matter,” Vance’s spokesman Danny Frost said. 

“He has determined that the district attorney’s office will begin a preliminary review of the matter, which will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken.”

Rachel Dretzin, who directed the documentary along with Phil Bertelsen was quoted as saying by the New York Times that what got them hooked “was the notion that the likely shotgun assassin of Malcolm X was living in plain sight in Newark, and that many people knew of his involvement, and he was uninvestigated, unprosecuted, unquestioned.”

Spied on by the FBI and the police, Malcolm, who spoke at the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, the day he was assassinated.

Labeled “worthy of death” a week before his assassination, his home in Queens was firebombed while he and his wife and four daughters slept inside.

The New York Times reports that Talmadge Hayer, a member of the Nation of Islam from a New Jersey mosque, was arrested fleeing the ballroom, with a clip from a handgun used in the killing. Two men from Malcolm’s former Harlem mosque, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were later arrested. 

At trial, Hayer, who later became Mujahid Abdul Halim, admitted his guilt but said the other two men were innocent. The three were, however, were convicted and received life sentences. 

After Halim’s 1970s affidavits naming four members of the Newark mosque as his partners in the crime, civil rights lawyer William Kunstler moved to reopen the case but was denied.

Anthony V. Bouza a detective on the case, wrote a few years ago, “The investigation was botched.”

“The vast majority of white opinion at that time was that this was black-on-black crime, and maybe black-extremist-on-black-extremist crime,” said David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian. “And there was for decades a consensus in black communities that we are not going to pick up that rock to see what’s underneath it.”

According to the Innocence Project, there was no physical evidence linking Aziz or Islam to the murder.

The Innocence Project expressed gratitude to the district attorney for quickly agreed to review the case.

“Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, we are especially encouraged that Mr. Vance has assigned two highly respected prosecutors, Peter Casolaro and Charles King, to work on this re-investigation,” Innocence Project co-founder and special counsel Barry Scheck said in a statement.

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