‘I do not need a court to tell me I am innocent’: Man exonerated over Malcom X assassination blasts system that convicted him

Office of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance to vacate convictions of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 19 November 2021 22:24
A bid will be made to exonerate two men over the murder of Malcolm X, says Manhattan’s DA
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An 83-year-man finally set to be exonerated over the assassination of Malcolm X, has said he does not need “a court or a piece of paper” to tell him he is innocent.

Muhammad Aziz, and the late Khalil Islam, were convicted in 1966, for shooting dead the Nation of Islam spokesperson and civil rights activist, the year before in Harlem.

There have long been questions about the fairness of the conviction, and the two men had always insisted they were innocent and had been framed by the authorities.

This week it was reported that six decades after the killing at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, the office of the top prosecutor in Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, was set to file a motion with a New York City court, vacating the convictions and exonerating Mr Aziz and Mr Islam, who died in 2009.

“While I do not need a court, 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 recognised,” Mr Aziz said in a statement released by his lawyers.

Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali

He added: “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.”

Lawyers from Mr Vance’s office are set to join attorneys for the two men and file a motion to vacate the convictions on Thursday.

Malcolm X gained prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam, speaking about the importance of Black people claiming their civil rights “by any means necessary”, and his role ini the Black Muslim organisation was highly visible.

But he split with the group and after a trip to Mecca, started speaking about the potential for racial unity. Some in the organisation turned on him and called him a traitor.

He was shot dead on the evening of 21 February 1965, just as he was due to start a speech at at the Audubon Ballroom. The building, located at the junction of Broadway and West 165th St, currently contains the Malcolm X and Dr Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in its lobby to commemorate the leader’s contribution to the civil rights movement.

The reexamination of the case by Mr Vance’s office followed the broadcast last year of a documentary on Netflix, Who Killed Malcolm X?  hosted by scholar Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, that made the case for the two men’s innocence.

Mr Aziz was released on parole in 1985, and Islam was similarly paroled two years later. Both men continued to press to clear their names.

A third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan, admitted his role in the murder and was convicted of the killing. He testified that neither of the two other men were involved.

Vanessa Potkin, a lawyer with the New York-based Innocence Project, a non-profit that helped probe the case, said the fresh investigation “unearthed evidence of Mr Aziz and Mr Islam’s innocence that had been hidden by the New York Police Department and FBI”.

Malcolm X was shot and killed as he was about to speak at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem

He said the information “also highlights the many unanswered questions about the government’s complicity in the assassination – a separate and important issue that, itself, demands further inquiry”.

David Shanies, a lawyer who worked to clear the names of both men, said: “This marks a significant and long overdue milestone. These innocent men experienced the agony of decades in prison for a crime they did not commit. They were robbed of their freedom in the prime of their lives and branded the killers of a towering civil rights leader.”

In his statement, Mr Aziz, said he did not know how many more years he had left in which to “be creative”.

He said: “I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also take responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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