UPDATE, Thursday, 12:27 PM PT: A New York Judge granted a motion to vacate the convictions of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, as District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. apologized for what he called a “decades long injustice.”
“I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust,” Vance told Chief Administrative Judge Ellen Biben. “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 the equal protection of the law. We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.”
Vance said that Deputy Chief Charles King and Carey Dunne worked with the Innocence Project and David Shanies on a new investigation over the past two years.
Vance told the judge that although all the investigators, eyewitnesses and attorneys have died, they obtained reports from the FBI and the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations.
“These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other suspects,” Vance said. “And, significantly, we now have reports revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants.”
He described the evidence as exculpatory, meaning that it was favorable to the defense, yet was never disclosed to their attorneys.
“Without these files, it is clear these men did not receive a fair trial, and their convictions must be vacated,” Vance said.
PREVIOUSLY: New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. will move to vacate the convictions of two men for the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, his office said on Wednesday.
The announcement of the exoneration of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, first reported in The New York Times, follows a recent Netflix docuseries on the 56-year-old case, Who Killed Malcolm X?
Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a historian who has long investigated the case and was a central figure in the docuseries, wrote on Twitter, “As a result of our Netflix series ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?,’ tomorrow the US history books will be rewritten when two men wrongfully convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X will be exonerated after 55 years, a historic milestone!!” Vance’s office had been reviewing the case for almost two years, as the documentary uncovered new evidence.
Aziz and Islam each spent more than 20 years in prison for the murder of the civil rights leader. Another man who was convicted, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was not exonerated. He confessed to the killing during the trial, but has said that the two other men were innocent. Halim was granted parole in 2010.
Aziz was released on parole in 1985, and Islam two years later. Islam died in 2009.
Vance’s investigation was conducted with the Innocence Project and attorney David Shanies.
“These men did not get the justice that they deserved,” Vance told the Times.
Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, while he was delivering a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. He had been in conflict with the Nation of Islam, the group that he had left and later renounced. Halim later named four other men who he said took part in the murder, but Aziz and Islam were rejected in their appeals as they served their sentences.