Two of the three men convicted in the 1965 assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X are set to be exonerated, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance found after an almost two-year investigation that authorities withheld evidence in the trial of the two men — Muhammad A. Aziz, 83, and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, the New York Times reported.
Aziz and Islam always maintained their innocence in the assassination. Islam died in 2009 but Aziz, who is now in his 80s, continued to fight to clear his record. Aziz and Islam’s estate are represented by the Innocence Project and Shanies Law Office, a civil rights law firm based in New York, NBC News reported.
A press release said Vance, along with representatives of the Innocence Project and Shanies Law Office, is expected to be present in New York State Supreme Court Thursday afternoon to ask a judge to vacate the convictions.
“The events that brought us here should never have occurred; those events were and are the result of a process that was corrupt to its core – one that is all too familiar – even in 2021,” Aziz said in a statement provided through his lawyers. “While I do not need this court, these prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am glad that my family, my friends, and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized,” he added.
Malcolm X was speaking at an Organization of Afro-American Unity event at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, when a group of men suddenly rushed to the podium and fatally shot him several times. Three members of the political and religious group the Nation of Islam were arrested — Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson; Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler; and Mujahid Abdul Halim.
They were held responsible for the shooting and sentenced to life in prison in 1966. Halim admitted to playing a role in the assassination but maintained that Aziz and Islam were not involved in it, according to the Innocence Project. Halim in 1978 disclosed his co-conspirators in the assassination. He identified four other men he said were involved. However, a judge at the time rejected a motion to vacate Aziz’s and Islam’s convictions, the Innocence Project said.
Vance opened an investigation into the case following a Netflix documentary series last year titled “Who Killed Malcolm X?” that raised doubts about the convictions. Vance’s investigation found that key physical evidence and documents were lost over the years. What is more, many investigators, witnesses and potential suspects have since died and the murder weapons could no longer be tested, The New York Times reported. FBI documents also included information that implicated other suspects and “pointed away” Aziz and Islam, The New York Times added.
“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance told the Times. “These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”
Recently, a confession letter written by a former Black New York Police Department (NYPD) cop on his deathbed was released. The letter alleged that the department and the FBI played a role in the assassination of Malcolm X. In the letter that was obtained by ABC News, Ray Wood, who reportedly worked as an undercover police officer on the day Malcolm X was assassinated, confessed he “participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own black people.” The letter was written on January 25, 2011.
Wood claimed he was recruited by the NYPD in 1964 to “infiltrate civil rights organizations” for the sole purpose of digging up evidence of criminal activity to enable the FBI to taint the image of their followers and arrest their leaders.
Days before Malcolm X was fatally shot, Wood claimed his handler arranged the arrest of two of his “key” security guards in a bid to leave a gaping hole in the civil rights activist’s security apparatus.
“It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime, so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s door security on February 21, 1965,” Wood wrote, adding: “… At that time I was not aware that Malcolm X was the target.”