A settlement of $36 million to two men exonerated in the Feb. 21, 1965 assassination of Malcolm X will bring a measure of justice in their wrongful convictions and prison sentences. One of the men, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, 84, is alive to accept the payment—$26 million from the city and $10 million from the state—and it will be divided with the estate of Khalil Islam, who died in 2009 at 74.
On Sunday evening, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department told ABC News that the settlement had been reached in the wrongful conviction that incarcerated Aziz and Islam for decades who “bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”
Moreover, the law department said, “Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance that “there is one ultimate conclusion—Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime.” One of the main reasons they were exonerated rested on the discovery of new evidence and the failure to disclose evidence that might have proved their innocence.
Aziz was paroled in 1985, Islam two years later, after serving 22 years. Each appealed their convictions and maintained their innocence. The terms of the settlement were confirmed by attorney David Shanies, who represented them but told the Amsterdam News he had no statement on the timing of the payment process.
The settlement comes as a result of a $40 million suit for malicious prosecution filed by Aziz and the estate of Islam back in July. Part of the suit included denial of due process rights and government misconduct. They also filed two multimillion-dollar lawsuits in December 2021 targeting the state.
It was widely discussed among those familiar with the assassination that the trial was inadequately deliberated and that key witnesses were not called, and that the case was insufficiently investigated. Some of these miscarriages of justice were echoed by Vance during his statement that the NYPD and the FBI had made “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.”
Even after Talmadge Hayer (now Mujahid Abdul Halim), who along with Aziz and Islam was convicted, confessed to the crime it had no bearing on the outcome. He was shot by Malcolm X’s bodyguard Ruben Francis as the assassination unfolded. During trial he testified that his co-defendants weren’t involved. In 1978 he named four co-assassins in an affidavit, and the case still wasn’t reopened.
Despite broadcasts by Gil Noble’s television show “Like It Is” and numerous documentaries divulging this info decades ago, the case wasn’t reinvestigated until 2020’s “Who Killed Malcolm X?” Netflix documentary rekindled interest.
Vance vacated the convictions last November, citing “newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.” He also apologized on the NYPD’s and FBI’s behalf for what he called “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.”
That same month, State Supreme Court judge Ellen N. Biben, who had granted the exoneration motions, said, “I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost.”
“Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years,” said Shanies, adding that the settlements send a message that “police and prosecutorial misconduct cause tremendous damage, and we must remain vigilant to identify and correct injustices.”
“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades—42 years between them—as the result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” Shanies said in July. “Justice delayed for far too long is justice denied.”
Being cleared and compensated of one of the most infamous political assassinations of the Civil Rights era. “It’s tragic that he died never knowing that his name would be cleared,” Shanies said.
Khalil Islam II declined the AmNews’ request to comment on the settlement. “If God is on your side,” Aziz said during an interview in February, “it doesn’t matter who’s against you. God’s on my side.”