The two men who each spent more than 20 years in prison for the killing of Malcolm X will be exonerated following a 22-month investigation into the case. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, who were convicted for the 1965 assassination of one of the nation’s most influential Black activists, will have their charges thrown out on Thursday.
Islam passed away in 2009. Aziz was released on parole in 1985.
“It’s long overdue,” Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice initiative, told the New York Times. “This is one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century who commanded enormous attention and respect. And yet, our system failed.”
Lawyers for the two men worked with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to take another look at the case. Their investigation found that the FBI and the New York Police Department had withheld key evidence from the trial that probably would have exonerated the two men if it had been presented. The investigation raises new questions about what exactly happened in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 when Malcolm X was murdered.
Questions have long hovered around the case, with historians, experts and witnesses casting serious doubts about Islam and Aziz’s involvement. A six-part Netflix documentary called Who Killed Malcolm X? sparked new interest in the killing, detailing just how flimsy the evidence against the men was.
The investigators say they did not find any evidence of an FBI plot to have Malcolm X killed. Mujahid Abdul Halim, who was also convicted of the killing, confessed to the crime and said the other two men were innocent. His conviction will remain.
Malcolm X was shot as he was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which fostered cooperation between African Americans and African nations. Malcolm X had recently left the Nation of Islam and converted to Sunni Islam.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. acknowledged that there was little anyone could do to make the injustice done to the two men right. “But what we can do is acknowledge the error, the severity of the error,” he said.