New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of two of the three men convicted of assassinating renowned civil rights leader Malcolm X, after their exoneration last year.
The judgment will see 83-year-old Muhammad Aziz and the family of the late Khalil Islam, who died in 2018, awarded a collective $36million, after the pair both spent decades in prison for their supposed part in the 1965 killing.
Following a nearly two-year investigation by their lawyers and the Manhattan DA, both men were exonerated in November after several doubts by historians and legal experts over inconsistencies in the case saw their conviction overturned.
New York officials have now agreed to pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions, with the state set to fork over an additional $10 million.
The decision to make good on the wrongful convictions comes after a 22-month investigation into allegations that prosecutors, the FBI, and New York Police withheld crucial evidence in the case that would have acquitted the pair.
Both men maintained their innocence for the entirety of their incarcerations. Islam attested that he had no role in the assassination at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights until his dying day, an assertion shared by a now elderly Aziz.
The third man arrested for the killing, Thomas Hagan, is the only of the three to confess to the crime. He said Aziz and Islam were not guilty: a sentiment he maintained when he took the stand in 1966 to plead guilty to his part in the killing.
David Shanies, an attorney representing both the exonerated men, confirmed the bombshell settlements Sunday in an emailed statement.
‘Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years,’ said Shanies said in an email.
‘The City recognized the grave injustices done here, and I commend the sincerity and speed with which the Comptroller´s Office and the Corporation Counsel moved to resolve the lawsuits.’
Shanies said the settlements send a message that ‘police and prosecutorial misconduct cause tremendous damage, and we must remain vigilant to identify and correct injustices.’
Last year, a Manhattan judge dismissed the convictions of Aziz, now 84, and Islam, who died in 2009, after prosecutors said new evidence of witness intimidation and suppression of exculpatory evidence had undermined the case against the men.
Then-District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. apologized for law enforcement´s ‘serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust.’
The New York City Law Department, through a spokesperson, said Sunday it ‘stands by’ Vance’s opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted and the financial agreement ‘brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.’
Shanies said over the next few weeks the settlement documents will be signed and the New York court that handles probate matters will have to approve the settlement for Islam’s estate.
The total $36 million will be divided equally between Aziz and the estate of Islam.
Aziz and Islam, who maintained their innocence from the start in the 1965 killing at Upper Manhattan´s Audubon Ballroom, were paroled in the 1980s.
Malcolm X gained national prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam. He was shot to death while beginning a speech Feb. 21, 1965. He was 39.
Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, and a third man were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life in prison.
The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim – also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan – admitted to shooting Malcolm X but said neither Aziz nor Islam was involved.