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2 men convicted of murdering Malcolm X to be exonerated

2 men convicted of murdering Malcolm X to be exonerated
Malcolm X was assassinated while preparing to give a speech in 1965 in Manhattan. File Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Manhattan district attorney plans to exonerate two men convicted of killing civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965, the Innocence Project and the men's lawyers announced Wednesday.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Shanies Law firm and the Innocence Project are expected to file a joint motion Thursday vacating the convictions of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil.

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Vance's office began a review of the case in January 2020, finding new evidence indicating the two men's innocence. The Innocence Project said investigators found FBI documents that were available at the time of their 1966 trial, but were withheld from both the prosecution and defense.

"It took five decades of unprecedented work by scholars and activists and the creation of a Conviction Integrity Program at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office willing to engage in a true joint re-investigation for these wrongful convictions to be officially acknowledged and rectified," Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project said in a statement emailed to UPI.

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"The recently unearthed evidence of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam's innocence that had been hidden by the [New York Police Department] and FBI not only invalidates their convictions, it also highlights the many unanswered questions about the government's complicity in the assassination -- a separate and important issue that, itself, demands further inquiry."

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Malcolm X was shot to death Feb. 21, 1965, while preparing to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Nation of Islam members Mujahid Abdul Halim (then known as Talmadge Hayer), Aziz (then known as Norman 3X Butler) and Islam (then known as Thomas 15X Johnson) were arrested and convicted of murder in 1966.

Halim confessed to the shooting but refused to identify Aziz and Islam as his co-conspirators, instead saying members of a Newark, N.J., mosque helped him in the attack on Malcolm X.

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Aziz was paroled in 1985, Islam in 1987 and died in 2009, and Halim in 2010.

Two reporters, including UPI correspondent Stanley Scott, were present at the Audubon Ballroom during the attack on Malcolm X. He wrote that one of Malcolm X's lieutenants told him press wouldn't be allowed to attend the "action program" that day.

"As a Negro, you can come in as an interested citizen," the lieutenant said. "But you will have to remove your press badge."

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Scott wrote that he watched Malcolm X walk to the microphone and begin his speech, when he heard a commotion and someone yell "get out of my pocket." Malcolm X, he said, tried to ease the tensions.

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"Take it easy. OK now, take it easy," Malcolm X said.

"Those were his last words. What sounded then like 20 or 30 shots rang out," Scott wrote. "Men and women, clutching small children, ducked to the floor and crawled under tables as the rapid firing continued in what seemed like an eternity."

Scott said a stretcher took Malcolm X to a hospital half a block away as his guards guarded his body and his wife followed, "still hysterical."

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