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On November 28, 2021, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, two of the three men convicted of the murder of Malcolm X were exonerated. At the time, Aziz was known as Norman 3X Butler. Khalil Islam was known as Thomas 15x Johnson.  A twenty-two-month investigation by the Manhattan district attorney determined that the two men were wrongfully convicted. Muhammad was 83 years old at the time of his exoneration. Khalil Islam was deceased at the time of the exoneration.

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. In 1966 Aziz, Islam, and Thomas Hagan were convicted of the murder by a jury. Both Aziz and Islam maintained their innocence. Hagan (also known as Talmadge Hayer) reportedly told the court during the trial that Islam and Aziz were not involved in the murder of Malcolm X.  There was also no physical evidence that was ever found linking either Aziz or Islam to the murder. In 1978, Hagan named four other co-conspirators in the murder of Malcolm X.  However, the judge at the time rejected a motion to vacate convictions for Aziz and Islam. 

Aziz was incarcerated for twenty years and subsequently spent 55 years living under the weight of the false accusation and being labeled as the convicted murderer of an iconic civil rights leader. Aziz filed suit against the State of New York in December 2021 for damages of at least $20 million due to his wrongful conviction. Legal counsel representing Aziz also filed documents that indicate a possible $40 million lawsuit against the City of New York and other individuals. Similar filings are being expected from Islam’s estate as well.

During the court hearing vacating the conviction of Aziz and Islam, New York District Attorney Cy Vance said the trial of Aziz and Islam was not fair. Vance further stated that the New York District Attorney’s office investigation revealed that crucial evidence from the FBI and NYPD was not given to the defense. Following the exoneration hearing, Vance said, “I apologize on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement for this decades-long injustice which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection under the law.”

In a statement made by his legal counsel, Aziz said, “While I do not dwell on what my life might have been like had this travesty of justice never occurred, the deep and lasting trauma it caused cannot be overstated. The more than 20 years that I spent in prison were stolen from me and my family, and while the official record now recognizes the truth that has been known for decades, nothing can undo the damage that my wrongful conviction caused to all of us. Those responsible for depriving me of my liberty and for depriving my family of a husband, a father, and a grandfather should be held accountable.”

The investigation into the murder of Malcolm X was re-opened in response to the release of the Netflix documentary, “Who Killed Malcolm X?” produced by Phil Bertelsen. When interviewed by CBS News, Bertelsen said, “The FBI had eyewitness testimony from presumably the nine informants that were in the room that day about who did the crime. Full descriptions of the men, and particularly the man who wielded the shotgun. That was information that was not given to the NYPD”.

These men cannot retrieve the years that they were robbed of their freedom. It makes one wonder, what if any consequences will those responsible for withholding evidence in this case receive.   

Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect, and pass it on.