Men Wrongly Convicted Of Malcolm X Murder To Get $26 Million Settlement



A man exonerated in the slaying of civil rights leader Malcolm X and the estate of another man whose conviction was overturned will receive $36 million to settle lawsuits filed on their behalf after prosecutors say the men did not receive a fair trial.

New York City will pay $26 million to Muhammad A. Aziz and the Khalil Islam estate to compensate them for their wrongful murder convictions in 1966, according to the city’s legal office and an attorney for the men. The sum will be divided equally between Aziz and the estate of Islam, said the lawyer, David Shanies.

New York State also agreed to pay $5 million to Aziz and the same amount to Islam’s estate, according to Shanies and court records.

“These settlements recognize the innocence of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, and the unconscionable violations of the law by police and prosecutors who have sworn to uphold it,” Shanies said in an email. “The damage caused by wrongful convictions can never be undone, but we owe it to history and to the people whose lives have been destroyed to face the truth and try to make amends.”

Stefan Mooklal, deputy chief of staff for the New York City Legal Department, said his office agreed with former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s finding that Aziz and Islam were wrongfully convicted.

“This settlement brings a measure of justice to people who have spent decades in jail and been stigmatized for being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure,” Mooklal said in a statement.

The New York Attorney General’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The payments are another public mea culpa for the combined 42 years that Aziz, 84, and Islam, who died in 2009, served in prison before prosecutors admitted to making a tragic mistake. The pair was exonerated in November after a jury previously found them guilty of participating in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X on the stage of Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.

Malcolm X: Who was he, why was he murdered and who did it?

A Netflix documentary released in 2020 released new evidence casting doubt on Aziz and Islam’s involvement, prompting Vance to launch a two-year review of their first-degree murder convictions. He ultimately concluded there were deep flaws in the prosecution, including withheld documents, conflicting eyewitness testimony and seemingly strong alibis exposed in the decades since the convictions.

Aziz and Islam were vindicated in November when a New York Supreme Court judge overturned their convictions decades after Aziz was released on parole in 1985 and Islam was released in 1987. Talmadge Hayer, who goes by Mujahid Abdul Halim, confessed to the crime and always maintained that Aziz and Islam were innocent.

Before a judge in his exoneration hearing, Aziz said the result validated what had always been true.

“While I don’t need a court, prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I’m innocent, I’m happy that my family, friends and the lawyers who have worked and supported me for all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known officially recognized,” he said.

In July, Aziz and the domain of Islam sued the city of New York and former law enforcement officials for $40 million in compensation for their wrongful convictions.

The estate of Aziz and Islam had been discussing potential settlements with the city since August, according to court records from federal cases in the Eastern District of New York. Federal Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy recommended that the parties reach an agreement, according to docket entries released Saturday.

They served decades in prison for killing Malcolm X. Now their names are cleared.

As a black religious leader and activist, Malcolm X was controversial among black and white Americans. He advocated for black empowerment and the adoption of Islam among blacks while espousing the violently anti-white ideology of the Nation of Islam, for which he was the spokesperson. But her fiery nature has also earned her the admiration of many.

Malcolm X eventually left the Nation of Islam after being disenchanted with its leader and softening his views on white people. Rumors that the Nation planned to assassinate him began to swirl.

At 39, Malcolm X was killed before a speech when an assassin rushed onto the stage and shot him in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other people shot him in the ankle and thighs.

The murder has sparked both factual debate and conspiracy theories about the identity of the attackers. Shanies and Innocence Project, a nonprofit that campaigns for criminal justice reform, have long sought to clear the names of Aziz and Islam.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben apologized to Aziz and Islam’s family after she overturned their convictions last year.

“I regret that this court cannot fully redress the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and return to you the many years that have been lost,” she said.

Shayna Jacobs and Sydney Trent contributed to this report.


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