New York has agreed to pay $26 million to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of two men whose convictions in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X were thrown out last November, city officials said.
Both Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam were exonerated last year after a judge found “serious miscarriages of justice” in their cases.
A 22-month investigation by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office and lawyers for the men found that evidence of their innocence, including FBI documents, was withheld at trial.
“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,” New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge Ellen Biben said in her ruling at the time.
Three men were convicted in 1966 for the murder of Malcolm X – Mujahid Abdul Halim (known previously as both Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Aziz and Islam, and were sentenced to life in prison. Aziz and Islam said they were innocent. Halim acknowledged he took part in the assassination, but he maintained the innocence of the other two men.
Aziz was released from prison in 1985; Islam was released in 1987 but died in 2009 and received a posthumous exoneration.
“What’s most important is that Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam have reclaimed their good names,” David Shanies, an attorney representing both Aziz and the state of Islam, said in a statement to CNN.
“They will go down in history as two brave, dignified, innocent men who never stopped fighting their tragic wrongful convictions. It was imperative that these civil lawsuits be resolved immediately and fairly, and I am gratified that New York City and its lawyers worked with us toward a just resolution,” his statement said.
Vance’s review of the case came after the 2020 Netflix documentary, “Who Killed Malcolm X?” raised a slew of new questions.
Aziz filed a $40 million civil rights lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court in July, arguing his “wrongful conviction was the product of flagrant official misconduct, including, inter alia, by the NYPD and its intelligence unit, the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations.”
Paperwork for the $26 million settlement is still being finalized, but it will be split evenly between Aziz and the estate of Islam, said Nick Paolucci, press secretary for the New York City Law Department. Court records state the parties in both cases have “accepted the courts settlement recommendation in their respective cases.”
A New York City Law Department spokesman told CNN in a statement: “This settlement 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. Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. who stated, based on his investigation, that ‘there is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime.’”
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