Two Men Convicted in Killing of Malcolm X to Be Exonerated

Two Men Convicted in Killing of Malcolm X to Be Exonerated Two Men Convicted in Killing of Malcolm X to Be Exonerated Undated picture of Malcolm X (C), the leader of the Organization for the Afro-American unity. (STF/AFP via Getty Images)

By Theodore Bunker | Wednesday, 17 November 2021 06:12 PM

Two of the three men who were convicted of killing Malcolm X in 1965 will have their convictions thrown out this week, their lawyers and the Manhattan district attorney told The New York Times.

A 22-month-long joint investigation between the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the Innocence Project, and lawyers for Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, who have both maintained their innocence for decades, concluded that the FBI and the New York Police Department both withheld important evidence at the time that would have likely led to the acquittal of Aziz, known at the time as Norman 3X Butler, and Islam, known at the time as Thomas 15X Johnson, if it had been turned over at the time.

This evidence includes the fact that prosecutors failed to acknowledge that undercover police officers were present in the ballroom where Malcolm X was shot. Police Department files also show that a journalist with The New York Daily News had been warned about the shooting the morning before it took place. The investigators also interviewed a still-living witness, identified only as J.M., who supported Aziz’s alibi that he was at home nursing a wound at the time of the shooting.

“This wasn’t a mere oversight,” said Deborah Francois, an attorney who represents the men. “This was a product of extreme and gross official misconduct.”

The review did not identify who prosecutors now believe killed Malcolm X, and it did not uncover a conspiracy on the part of the police or the government to assassinate the civil rights leader.

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. apologized during an interview with the Times for the actions of those law enforcement agencies, saying that while their failures cannot be fixed, “what we can do is acknowledge the error, the severity of the error.”

He noted that the re-investigation, which his office carried out along with the Innocence Project and the office of civil rights attorney David Shanies, encountered several difficulties that mostly involved the fact that many of the principle figures in the murder case, including witnesses, investigators, lawyers, and potential suspects, have died in the time since the killing. In addition, importance pieces of evidence, including murder weapons, were not able to be tested.

“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance told the newspaper. “These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”

Aziz, who was released in 1985, is now 83-years-old. Islam, who was released in 1987, died in 2009.