Muhammad A. Aziz, exonerated on charges he killed Malcolm X in 1966, is seen in the courtroom at Manhattan State Supreme court on Thursday. Pool Photo by Curtis Means/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A New York judge on Thursday granted exonerations for two men wrongfully convicted of killing civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965.
State Supreme Court Judge Ellen Biben issued the exonerations of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam after Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. filed a motion seeking to vacate the convictions.
Both men served about 20 years in prison and were released in the mid-1980s, but Islam died in 2009. Aziz said the exoneration couldn't erase the decades of his life lost.
"My wrongful conviction was a terrible injustice that resulted from the deliberate and dishonest actions of corrupt officials. It has caused unspeakable harm to my family and to me. The lost time and relationships with my family and loved ones can never be recovered," Aziz said in a statement released by the Innocence Project.
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.
"We have obtained dozens and dozens of reports, from the FBI and the NYPD's Bureau of Special Services and Investigations," Vance said in court Thursday. "These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other suspects. And, significantly, we now have reports revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants.
"Without these files, it is clear these men did not receive a fair trial, and their convictions must be vacated."
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.
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."
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.
"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."