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Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam have been exonerated in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X and will receive a $36 million settlement after lawsuits were filed on their behalf against both the city and the state of New York last year, reports ABC News.
New York City agreed to pay $26 million in settling a lawsuit filed on behalf of the two men, Islam was exonerated posthumously in the killing. Meanwhile, the state of New York has also agreed to pay an additional $10 million.
NPR reports David Shanies, an attorney representing the men, confirmed the settlements on Sunday. “Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years,” said Shanies. “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 settlement comes after Aziz and the estate of Islam sued New York City on July 14, seeking $40 million for malicious prosecution, denial of due process rights and government misconduct. Aziz and the estate of Khalil Islam also filed two multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits in December 2021 aimed at New York state government.
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance moved to vacate the convictions of Muhammad Aziz, 84, and co-defendant Khalil Islam in November 2021, citing “newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.”
“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades – 42 years between them – as the result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” Shanies said in July. “Justice delayed for far too long is justice denied. Mr. Aziz just turned 84 and Mr. Islam tragically died before seeing his name cleared.”
“These men and their families should not be delayed compensation for the gross injustices they suffered,” he added.
Aziz and Islam were members of the Nation of Islam and belonged to Malcolm X’s mosque #7 in Harlem.
Aziz, a U.S. Navy veteran and the father of six children, was 26 when he was arrested for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. He spent 20 years in prison. Aziz was released on parole in 1985.
Two years later, Islam was released after serving 22 years. They each appealed their convictions and always maintained their innocence. Islam died in 2009 at the age of 74. His estate filed a related claim.
According to New York Amsterdam News, during their 1966 trial, Talmadge Hayer — who was at the murder scene — admitted guilt and testified that the two Harlemites didn’t participate with him. All three were convicted and given life sentences.
Initially, Hayer refused to cooperate with authorities, but in 1977, at the behest of civil rights attorney William Kunstler, he named Benjamin Thomas, Leon Davis, William Bradley, and Wilbur McKinnley as accomplices, in an affidavit. None were ever formally charged with murdering Malcolm. Butler and Johnson weren’t permitted to present Hayer’s affidavit as evidence and their appeals were repeatedly denied. Judge Harold Rothwax rejected a motion to reopen the case.
However, the case was not reopened until interest in the case was renewed in 2020 following the release of “Who Killed Malcolm X?” – a Netflix documentary that follows the work of independent historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad who spent decades investigating the killing of the legendary leader.
“After I had watched the Netflix documentary. I thought there was enough to look at this,” Vance told ABC News’ “Soul of a Nation Presents: Xonerated – The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice,” which aired in February.
Vance apologized last year on behalf of the NYPD and the FBI for what he called “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.”