In a historic decision that rewrites the history books, the criminal records of two men who were convicted in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X are being cleared, confirming their long-held claims that they had no role in the tragic killing and were framed.
Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press reported that “two of the three men convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X are set to be cleared Thursday after insisting on their innocence since the 1965 killing of one of the United States’ most formidable fighters for civil rights.”
According to Peltz, “a nearly two-year-long reinvestigation found that authorities withheld evidence favorable to the defense in the trial of Muhammad Aziz, now 83, and the late Khalil Islam, said their attorneys, the Innocence Project and civil rights lawyer David Shanies.”
In a statement, Aziz, who spent twenty years in prison due to the false conviction and was ultimately paroled in 1985, said the legal system at the time was “corrupt to its core” and remains so even today.
“I do not need a court, prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent,” Aziz said. “The truth we have all known [has been] officially recognized.”
He also asked the criminal justice system to “take responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused [him].”
In his own statement, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. confirmed that his office would be joining prosecutors in asking the judge to erase the convictions against Aziz and Islam.
“These men did not get the justice that they deserved,” Vance said.
In an interview with The New York Times, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck described the two men’s case as “one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice that I have ever seen.”
One of the most influential figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X was assassinated by three men at the age of just 39 during a speech in Harlem, New York’s Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.
“Aziz, Islam and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim — also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan — were convicted of murder in March 1966 and sentenced to life in prison,” Peltz said.
“Hagan said he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X, but he testified that neither Aziz nor Islam was involved. The two, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, maintained throughout that they were innocent and offered alibis at their 1966 trial,” Peltz reported. “No physical evidence linked them to the crime.”
Hagan swore several times in legal affidavits following his conviction that Aziz and Islam had not been involved in the crime. He also identified two other men who were involved with the assassination, although neither was ever arrested.
“According to The New York Times, the reinvestigation found the FBI had documents that pointed to other suspects, and a still-living witness supported Aziz’s alibi — that he was at home with a leg injury at the time of the shooting,” Peltz reported.
“Exonerating these men is a righteous and well-deserved affirmation of their true character,” Innocence Project and civil rights lawyer David Shanies said in a statement.
In an interview with AP, Deborah Francois, a fellow lawyer working in his office, called the convictions “the product of gross official misconduct and a criminal justice system weighed against people of color.”