By Ebi Kesiena
Two of the three men convicted of killing civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965 will soon be exonerated, Manhattan’s District Attorney said in a statement.
After a 22-month investigation, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. found that authorities withheld evidence in the trial of Muhammad A. Aziz, 83, and the late Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, the New York Times reported. Both men spent over two decades in prison for a crime they vowed they did not commit.
Malcolm X was one of the civil rights era’s most compelling and controversial figures. The influential Black leader was assassinated as he began a speech in the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.
Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and a man later known as Thomas Hagan were convicted of murder the next year and sentenced to life in prison.
Hagan said he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X, but testified that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved.
Hagan was paroled in 2010. Aziz was released in 1985 and is now 83 years old. Islam was released in 1987. He professed his innocence before he died in 2009.
Aziz said in a statement released through the Innocence Project that he was a riotous innocent individual, a real human being.
“The events that brought us to court today should never have occurred; those events were and are the result of a process that was corrupt to its core one that is all too familiar even in 2021. While I do not need this court, these prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am glad that my family, my friends, and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized.
“I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system, and I do not know how many more years I have to be creative. However, I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also take responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me,” he said.
Now, the Manhattan DA says the two men, who always maintained their innocence, will be exonerated.
A two-year investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney came after a Netflix series called “Who Killed Malcolm X” helped lead to the exoneration of the two men.
Vance’s investigation found that key physical evidence and documents were lost over the years, the murder weapons could no longer be tested, and many witnesses, investigators, and potential suspects have since died, the Times reported. FBI documents implicated other suspects and “pointed away” from Islam and Aziz, the report said.
“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance told the publication.
“These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”