Two men who spent decades in prison for the murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X — which they steadfastly denied having any part in — will have their convictions thrown out, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office said Wednesday.
D.A. Cy Vance and attorneys for Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam will jointly move Thursday to vacate their 1966 convictions, the office said. Vance, in an interview with the New York Times, apologized and acknowledged the "severity of the error." Authorities in their trial withheld evidence favorable to the defense, said the Innocence Project and civil rights lawyer David Shanies, the attorneys for the two men.
Vance's office is expected to join the men’s attorneys Thursday in asking a judge to vacate the convictions.
The Times reported that the review found prosecutors, the FBI and the NYPD withheld evidence that would have likely led to an acquittal. The FBI and NYPD said they fully cooperated with Vance's investigation.
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Vance's office launched 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.
Mujahid Halim, who was freed on parole in 2010, admitted taking part in the killing but maintained the other two did not. Islam was paroled in 1987 and died in 2009; Aziz, paroled in 1985, is still alive at 83 years old.
Halim — also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan — said he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X, but he testified that neither Aziz nor Islam was involved. The two always said they were innocent and offered alibis. No physical evidence linked them to the crime.
"It's very important to find out the truth about who killed Malcolm X," said civil rights attorney Ben Crump. "It has always been believed that those gentlemen were wrongfully convicted and that the government conspired to kill Malcolm X."
Crump represents members of Malcolm X's family who have recently cited a letter allegedly written by a former NYPD cop, who claimed on his deathbed he was part of a law enforcement plot to weak Malcolm X's security team — thereby setting the table for the assassination. The family of the cop who supposedly wrote the letter dispute its credibility.
Malcolm X was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965, as three men rushed the stage while he was starting a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights. He gained national prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam, speaking about the importance of Black people claiming their civil rights “by any means necessary" in his highly visible role with the Black Muslim organization.
But he later split with the group and, after a trip to Mecca, started speaking about the potential for racial unity. It earned him the ire of some in the Nation of Islam, who saw him as a traitor.