Men convicted of killing Malcolm X acquitted after 55 years
The 83-year-old claimed he was victimized by the criminal justice system
The New York State Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben has vacated the convictions against Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam.
For decades, Aziz, and Islam repeatedly maintained their innocence in the 1965 assassination of the civil rights leader Malcolm X. The two were exonerated after nearly two years of re-investigation.
Their attorneys, the Innocence Project (a non-profit legal organization) and civil rights lawyer David Shanies said that Aziz and the late Islam were convicted in 1966, after a trial in which authorities withheld evidence favorable to the defense.
The Manhattan judge, Biben, dismissed the convictions stating, "I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of injustice in this case and give you back the many years that you lost."
Aziz was clad in a dark green suit and glasses. He stood and read a statement in front of Biben and spectators. "I do not need this court, these prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent. I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system."
"I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm caused to me," he said, adding that his wrongful conviction was one "that is all too familiar to Black people."
The recent investigation found information in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files about witnesses who could not identify Islam and implicated other suspects, according to the district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr.
The files revealed that the late FBI director J Edgar Hoover ordered agents to tell witnesses not to reveal that they were informants when talking with police and prosecutors, Vance Jr said.
"I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust. There is one ultimate conclusion that Aziz and Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime," he added.
The co-founder of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck, also condemned the wrongful conviction, saying, "The damage done to them and their families is immeasurable." Had exculpatory evidence been made public, "it would have changed the history of the civil rights movement in this country," he added.
Malcolm X was killed on 21 February 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, as he was beginning a speech.
Aziz, Islam and another person, Mujahid Abdul Halim (also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan) were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life in prison.
Halim had admitted that he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X, but he testified that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved. The two always said they were innocent and offered alibis. No physical evidence linked them to the crime.
Malcolm X 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.
While Aziz was released in 1985, Islam was released two years later. He died in 2009. Both continued to press to clear their names.