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Two men exonerated over assassination of Malcolm X

  • November 19, 2021

New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced on Wednesday that his office was throwing out the convictions of two men who had been found guilty of the 1965 assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X. 

Vance said that Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam had been the victims of a historic miscarriage of justice.

“These men did not get the justice that they deserved,” Vance said in an interview with The New York Times. “What we can do is acknowledge the error, the severity of the error.”

According to the Times, a 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors, the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that could have exonerated the two men.

On Thursday,  Manhattan judge Ellen Biben formally dismissed Aziz’ and Khalil’s convictions.

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What happened to Malcolm X?

About a year before his death in February 1965, the civil rights leader publicly parted ways with the Nation of Islam after growing disillusioned with the group. In the months that followed, the organization ramped up threats against Malcolm X and weeks before his assassination, he expressed to several people that he was certain the Nation of Islam leadership wanted to kill him.

On February 21, he was preparing to give a speech when he was beset upon by a group of gunmen. They were identified by some witnesses as Aziz, Islam, and Mujahid Abdul Halim, despite Aziz and Islam providing alibis.

Halim admitted to the shooting, but insisted his co-accused were innocent. He would not give police the names of his true accomplices.

“This is a classic example of law enforcement engaging in confirmation bias,” said Gene Rossi, an attorney in Washington D.C. who previously worked for the US Justice Department. Rossi told DW that “they had three subjects: Mr. Halim, Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, and they focused on them like a laser beam and they ignored another conspirator named William Bradley. So it was a comedy of errors that resulted from the lack of a culture to provide exculpatory evidence.”

Aziz, 83, was sentenced to life in prison in 1966 but was released in 1985. Also sentenced to life, Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009. Both had consistently maintained their innocence in the slaying of the influential Black leader.

In a statement, Aziz said that “the events that brought us here 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 a court, 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,” he added.

Despite the injustice, Rossi did not think police officials would face any consequences.

“I don’t think at this stage — it happened so many years ago — that anyone will be punished,” said Rossi. “However, there will be a strong learning lesson from this travesty of justice that two innocent men were sent away to prison for 20 years.”

es/aw (AP, Reuters)

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