New York City has agreed tofiled by two men who were exonerated in the assassination of Malcolm X last year. The city will pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, who spent decades in prison following their convictions for the 1965 slaying.
New York state will also pay an addition $10 million, according to The Associated Press.
“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,” a spokesperson for the city’s law department told CBS News in a statement. “Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Vance who stated, based on his investigation, that ‘there is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime.'”
David B. Shanies, an attorney representing Aziz and the estate of Islam, said the two men’s exonerations were “long overdue. New York City made the right decision by settling these lawsuits immediately and not prolonging the injustice. We are extremely grateful for the judge’s considerable efforts to facilitate a fair and speedy resolution.”
Last year, a Manhattan judgeof 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.”
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, exhorting Black people to claim their civil rights “by any means necessary.” His autobiography, written with Alex Haley, remains a classic work of modern American literature.
Near the end of Malcolm X’s life, he split with the Black Muslim organization and, after a trip to Mecca, started speaking about the potential for racial unity. It earned him the ire of some in the Nation of Islam, who saw him as a traitor.
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. The two offered alibis, and no physical evidence linked them to the crime. The case hinged on eyewitnesses, although there were inconsistencies in their testimony.
Attorneys for Aziz and Islam said in complaints that both Aziz and Islam were at their homes in the Bronx when Malcolm X was killed. They said Aziz spent 20 years in prison and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history.
Islam spent 22 years in prison and died still hoping to clear his name.