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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.”
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