Two men wrongly convicted of killing Malcolm X and jailed for two decades will receive $26m settlement

The men spent more than two decades locked up for a murder they did not commit

Graig Graziosi
Monday 31 October 2022 17:34 GMT
Malcolm X Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit
Malcolm X Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

New York City will pay $26m to settle lawsuits with a pair of men who were wrongly convicted in the 1965 assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were both exonerated in the killing last year when a judge determined the men’s journey through the US legal system has been plagued with "serious miscarriages of justice."

The New York Times reports that both men spent more than two decades locked up after they were hastily arrested and tried following the civil rights leader’s death.

Mr Islam died in 2009.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr and the men’s lawyers launched a 22-month investigation into their convictions that led to the exonerations. The review claims that the FBI, the NYPD, and city prosecutors intentionally hid key evidence from the mens’ defense attorneys that would have likely led to acquittals.

Last November, State Supreme Court Judge Ellen Biben granted the motion to vacate the men’s convictions.

“I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost,” she told Mr Aziz.

A spokesman for the city’s law department said he hoped the settlement would bring closure for the men involved.

“This settlement brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said in a statement.

“Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan district attorney Vance who stated, based on his investigation, that ‘there is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime,’” Mr Paolucci said.

According to Mr Paolucci and David B Shanies, who is representing the men, the settlement will be evenly distributed between Mr Aziz and Mr Islam. Mr Aziz is currently 84 years old. Mr Islam died at the age of 74.

“It’s tragic that he died never knowing that his name would be cleared,” Mr Shanies said. “So, given the importance of the case and the immense length of time that this wrongful conviction lingered, it was important for the government to act quickly to do what was within its power to make it right.”

According to Mr Shanies, the state of New York has also reached separate $5m settlements with the estates of both Mr Aziz and Mr Islam.

Malcolm X was shot and killed in 1965, approximately a year after he parted with the Nation of Islam. He was promoting his newly-formed Organization of Afro-American Unity with a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York, on 21 February when three gunmen attacked and killed him.

Mr Aziz and Mr Islam were quickly rounded up along with a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, and were charged with Malcolm X’s murder.

All three maintained their innocence initially, but Halim eventually broke and admitted to having been involved in the assassination. He also insisted that Mr Aziz and Mr Islam were innocent.

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