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New York to pay $36M to men cleared in Malcom X’s murder

Malcolm X

Two men wrongfully convicted of killing Malcolm X in 1965 will receive $36 million from New York City and the state.

Muhammad Abdul Aziz and the estate of the late Khalil Islam will receive $26 million from New York City and $10 million from the state of New York to settle wrongful conviction lawsuits that were filed last year.

David Shanies, an attorney representing the men, said in an email to the Black Information Network, “Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years. The City recognized the grave injustices done here, and I commend the sincerity and speed with which the Comptroller’s Office and the Corporation Counsel moved to resolve the lawsuits.”

Shanies said the settlements send a message that “police and prosecutorial misconduct cause tremendous damage, and we must remain vigilant to identify and correct injustices.”

The men were given life sentences in prison after they were convicted in 1966 of killing Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965. He was 39.

Before his assassination, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam amid growing tensions between him and members and their leader and founder, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

After a trip to Mecca, Malcolm X developed his own beliefs and began preaching a message of racial unity to the dismay of some Nation of Islam members.

With a new voice, Malcolm X prepared to make a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem when several men ran up to the stage and shot him multiple times. An

autopsy concluded Malcom X had 21 gunshot wounds to the chest, left shoulder, arms and legs. He was later pronounced dead at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Aziz was 26 when he was arrested for Malcolm X ‘s murder. He spent 20 years behind bars before he was released on parole in 1985. Islam served 22 years in prison. He died in 2009 still hoping to clear his name.

The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan, admitted to shooting Malcolm X but said neither Aziz nor Islam was involved.

The two men offered alibis, and there was no physical evidence that linked them to the crime. The case hinged on eyewitnesses, although there were inconsistencies in their testimony.

Despite Halim’s testimony and the two men appealing their convictions and maintaining their innocence for years, the case wasn’t reopened until the Netflix documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” renewed public interest in the case in 2020.

“After I had watched the Netflix documentary I thought there was enough to look at this,” then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement at the time.

“Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Vance who stated, based on his investigation, that ‘there is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime,’” the spokesman told the Black Information Network.

Vance vacated the convictions of Aziz, 84, and the late Islam in November 2021, citing “newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.”

He apologized last year for the NYPD and FBI’s “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.”

The New York City Law Department, through a spokesperson, said it “stands by” Vance’s opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted and the financial agreement “brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”

Shanies in news reports said in the coming weeks the settlement documents will be signed and the New York court that handles probate matters will have to approve the settlement for Islam’s estate. The total $36 million will be divided equally between Aziz and the estate of Islam.

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