Two of the three men found guilty of killing Malcolm X had their convictions thrown out on Thursday as Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said “it was clear these men did not receive a fair trial.”
Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, both of whom served 20 years in prison, have been exonerated more than 56 years after the civil rights activist was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.
The two men had maintained their innocence for years; Islam died in 2009 but Aziz, who is now in his 80s, has fought to clear his name in the February 21, 1965 killing in which several men opened fire in the ballroom where hundreds had gathered to hear Malcolm X speak.
Vance said the convictions were “wrongful” and asked for them to be vacated, adding that there is no way to re-try the case as most witnesses are dead and major pieces of evidence are missing from the record.
“The damage done to these men and their families by this wrongful conviction is immeasurable,” said Barry Scheck, an attorney for Aziz, according to the Washington Post. “This has been an exoneration in plain sight for decades.”
The exoneration comes after a 22-month investigation that came decades after three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1966. Mujahid Abdul Halim, then known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan, the third man who was arrested, admitted to playing a role in the assassination but said Aziz and Islam had not been involved, according to the Innocence Project.
Halim identified four other men he said were involved in 1978, but a judge rejected a motion to vacate Aziz and Islam’s convictions, according to the Innocence Project.
After decades of speculation that the case had been mishandled, Vance announced he would review the men’s convictions after a Netflix documentary series, Who Killed Malcolm X?, brought renewed attention to the case in 2020.
The documentary called attention to several details that helped prove the pair’s innocence, including that Aziz had injured his leg and visited a hospital just hours before the assassination.