Judge convicted two men in the murder of Malcolm X

Judge convicted two men in the murder of Malcolm X

New York More than half a century after the murder of Malcolm X, two convicted murderers were acquitted Thursday after decades of suspicion over who was responsible for the death of a civil rights icon.

A Manhattan judge has dismissed the convictions of Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam, after prosecutors and lawyers for the two men said a renewed investigation found new evidence the men were not involved in the killings, and decided that authorities withheld some of what they knew.

“The event that we brought to court today should not have happened,” Aziz, 83, told the court.

He and Islam, who had maintained their innocence from the start in the 1965 murder at Audubon Hall in Harlem, were released in the 1980s. Islam passed away in 2009.

Malcolm X gained national fame as the voice of the Nation of Islam, urging blacks to claim their civil rights “by any means necessary”. His autobiography, which he wrote with Alex Haley, remains a classic of modern American literature.

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Towards the end of Malcolm X’s life, he broke with the Black Muslim Organization and, after a trip to Mecca, began talking about the possibility of racial unity. It earned him the ire of some in the Nation of Islam who saw him as a traitor.

He was shot dead while starting a speech on February 21, 1965. He was 39 years old.

Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas X Johnson, and a third man were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim – also known as Talmadge Heyer and Thomas Hagan – admitted shooting Malcolm X, but said neither Aziz nor Islam were involved. The two made excuses, and no physical evidence linked them to the crime.

Halim was released on parole in 2010. Through a relative, he declined to comment on Thursday. He identified some other men as accomplices.

A recent re-investigation found evidence that included orders from former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself asking witnesses not to identify themselves as police or defense informants, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., told the court.

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“I apologize for the gross and unacceptable violations of the law and the public’s trust,” he said.

Barry Schick, co-founder of the Innocence Project who is an attorney for Aziz and the Islam family, said the review also concluded that the FBI and police hid evidence from prosecutors, in what he described as part of a plot to disrupt the civil rights movement for Black.

The New York Police Department and the FBI said on Wednesday that they had fully cooperated with the reinvestigation. They declined to comment further.

NYPD Chief Juanita Holmes said Thursday that she feels about Malcolm X’s family, Aziz and Islam “if we are responsible for withholding information.”

“I hope we don’t reconsider a scenario like this again,” she added.

Lawyers, scholars, and others have long raised questions about the convictions, and alternative theories and accusations have proliferated around the case. After Netflix aired the documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X? Early last year, Vance’s office said it was taking a fresh look at the case.

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As news of the exemptions reverberated, even New York City’s mayor said the public deserved more answers.

“I hope this discussion never ends,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “For millions and millions of Americans, we still need to know who killed Malcolm X and who ordered it.”

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