NYC to pay $26 million to men wrongly accused of killing Malcolm X


New York City will pay $26 million to two men who were wrongfully convicted of killing Malcolm X — a significant civil settlement that reflects the scope of “misconduct” by both NYPD and FBI officials who handled the case, according to an attorney for the two men.

The settlement comes one year after the exoneration of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, who spent two decades behind bars for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, before they were released on parole in the 1980s.

“There’s no amount of money that could ever correct what was robbed from Muhammad and Khalil,” Deborah Francois, an attorney for Aziz and Islam, told Gothamist Sunday. “That being said, we’re pleased the city saw an opportunity to act swiftly.”

Their convictions were overturned last November following a nearly two-year investigation spearheaded by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The probe found that prosecutors, the FBI and the NYPD withheld evidence that could have exonerated the two men in the killing.

Nicholas Paolucci, a city law department spokesman, said the settlement “brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused.”

He said the $26 million payout will be split evenly between the 84-year-old Aziz and the estate of Islam, who died in 2009. The men were released from prison in 1985 and 1987, respectively.

For years, scholars have accused the government of botching the investigation into the assassination, which came as Malcolm X was giving a speech in the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

According to Francois, the role of the FBI and the NYPD in bringing charges against the two men was the “key focus” in the civil litigation.

“Their wrongful convictions were the direct result of government misconduct by both the NYPD and the FBI,” she said. “That was an open secret, but what the exoneration showed was definitive proof through NYPD reports and FBI documents [that] both had a treasure trove of exculpatory information.”

The NYPD referred questions to the city law department.

At a press conference following the exoneration of the two men last year, Vance cited reports “revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants.”

The recently-released deathbed confession of an NYPD officer, who said he was tasked with ensuring that Malcolm X’s security guards were arrested days prior to the activist’s assassination, fueled further speculation about the the killing and who was responsible.

While Vance’s review did not implicate either the NYPD or the FBI, it did find an array of failures leading up to the conviction of Aziz and Islam. There was no physical evidence linking either man to the ballroom, and witnesses said both were home at the time of the shooting.

A third defendant, Talmade Hayer, was apprehended inside the ballroom and later confessed to the killing. He maintained that his two co-conspirators were innocent and, in 1977, submitted an affidavit naming four other men who he said also took part in the killing.

At the time, the New York Supreme Court Justice ruled the new evidence was not enough to reopen the case.