Live Updates: 2 Men are Exonerated in Malcolm X Killing After ‘Travesty of Justice’

ImageA judge overturned the convictions of two men found guilty of murder in the assassination of Malcolm X. One of them, Khalil Islam, is shown in this 1965 photo.
Credit…Associated Press

Muhammad A. Aziz, one of two men wrongfully convicted of the murder of Malcolm X, said the decision to throw out the verdict against him 56 years after the assassination could not eliminate the decades he had lost.

“I do not need this court, these prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent,” said Mr. Aziz, who was released from prison in 1985. “I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system.”

He added: “I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm caused to me,” noting that his wrongful conviction should have never taken place and was part of a broader trend “that is all too familiar to Black people.”

Thursday’s hearing came after a 22-month review of the convictions of two men, Mr. Aziz and Khalil Islam, in the 1965 murder of the civil rights leader. The review, jointly conducted by the district attorney’s office and lawyers for the men, concluded what historians and scholars had long argued: that the case against them was dubious from the start, based on conflicting witness testimony and no physical evidence.

“I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of injustice in this case and give you back the many years that you lost,” said Ellen N. Biben, the State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan who presided over the hearing. As she granted the motion to throw out the convictions, the courtroom burst into applause.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., apologized on behalf of some of the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agencies before the judge’s momentous decision, which officially rewrites the narrative of one of one of the most painful moments of the civil rights era. He had submitted a 43-page motion written with the men’s lawyers asking that the convictions be vacated.

“I want to begin by saying directly to Mr. Aziz and his family, and the family of Mr. Islam, and of Malcolm X that I apologize,” Mr. Vance said as the hearing began on Thursday. “We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.”

Mr. Islam, who spent more than 20 years in prison before being paroled in 1987, died in 2009, and those at the hearing lamented that he did not live to see his exoneration. Two of his sons, Ameen and Shahid Johnson, were gathered in the courtroom on Thursday, and tears welled in their eyes after the judge’s decision.

“I honestly didn’t think that I was going to live to see the day,” said Ameen Johnson, 57, in a brief interview outside the courtroom before the hearing began.

“It’s good but bittersweet,” he said, noting the absence of his father and mother. “They’re the ones who suffered.”

Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

One of his lawyers, David Shanies, called Mr. Aziz “a dignified and brave man” who “suffered enough injustice for a thousand lifetimes” on Thursday, while expressing disappointment that Mr. Islam “never lived to see the day of his exoneration.”

“Nothing can give back these men or their families the decades of freedom that was stolen from them,” Mr. Shanies said, calling the two men victims of the same racism that Malcolm X spoke against throughout his life.

A third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was also found guilty, and his conviction stands. At the trial, he confessed to the murder but said and has maintained that the other two men were innocent.

The news on Wednesday that the convictions were expected to be thrown out spurred waves of reactions from the public, historians and civil rights leaders, who lamented the decades that Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam spent in prison. The Rev. Al Sharpton called the miscarriage of justice “a strange and perverted irony.”

The wrongful convictions also allowed others to escape accountability, compounding the tragedy of a killing that silenced one of America’s most influential Black leaders — a man whose words and ideas still reverberate in contemporary social justice movements.

The men who some historians say were the actual assassins are dead, as well as the witnesses who testified and the police officers who handled the case.

Mr. Vance took up the case in January 2020, after meeting with Mr. Aziz and his lawyers from the Innocence Project and the office of Mr. Shanies, a civil rights lawyer. The “search for the truth” in the investigation was “severely impacted by the passage of time,” Mr. Vance said on Thursday, while apologizing on behalf of law enforcement.

On Thursday, Barry Scheck, the director of the Innocence Project, called for officials to undertake “a larger investigation with greater access to evidence to get the history right.” He said that the suppression of exculpatory evidence by F.B.I. and police officials served to inflict “immeasurable” damage to the lives of the two wrongfully convicted men — and altered the record of a moment that still holds deep relevance five decades later.

“It would have changed the history of the civil rights movement in this country,” Mr. Scheck said.

Credit…David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

One of Malcolm X’s daughters said on Thursday that she hoped the expected exonerations of two men wrongly convicted of her father’s assassination would bring “a measure of peace” to their relatives, but that her own family was still seeking justice.

Ilyasah Shabazz was almost 3 years old when she watched her father get gunned down in an Upper Manhattan ballroom. On Thursday, she recalled her mother’s efforts to keep “the legacy and inspiration Malcolm brought to the world alive” after witnessing his “horrific” death — and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

“Full justice will not be served until all parties involved in the orchestrated killing of our father are identified and brought to justice,” Ms. Shabazz, who is now 59, said in a statement. “It is our hope that finally the full truth can be learned.”

In the more than five decades since Malcolm X’s killing, the children of the civil rights leader — Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah and Malaak — have pushed for answers along with other relatives, questioning the official narrative of the assassination and the role of government agencies in it.

Three of Malcolm X’s daughters were present in the Audubon Ballroom as gunmen poured bullets into their father and they say they continue to carry the trauma with them. As the shooting broke out, their mother, Betty Shabazz — who was pregnant with twins — threw herself over them, they have recalled.

Credit…Bettmann Archive, via Getty Images

Ilyasah Shabazz, who is the third oldest, said in 2005 that she has little recollection of the shooting. Still, she added at the time, “you still have to be traumatized by all the noise and commotion and my mother covering us up.”

For Attallah Shabazz, the oldest daughter, who was around 6, the image was clearer: “I’m a child with the forever memory of the most significant man in my life standing at a podium and falling backwards,” she said in a television interview in 2000. “That’s forever.”

The family has long been in conflict with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whom they accused of playing a role in the assassination plot, an allegation Mr. Farrakhan has denied. They also have sought to reframe the public understanding of Malcolm X’s legacy.

Ilyasah Shabazz’s 2002 memoir, “Growing Up X,” described her childhood and the memories she held of her father — and how her life was shaped by his own life story.

And Betty Shabazz, a civil rights advocate herself who died in 1997, said she taught their six daughters about their father by emulating his personality.

“I taught them about him by myself being disciplined and strict,” she said in 1993. “My children think my persona is me, when actually, it is their father’s.”

Credit…Orlando Fernandez/World Telegram & Sun, via Library of Congress

Two men who were convicted of killing Malcolm X are expected to have their names cleared on Thursday. Here are five things to know about the assassination, and the developments over the decades.

1. In January 2020, a review of the case began.

Shortly before the release of a…

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