New York City is being sued by a man who spent two decades in prison for his alleged involvement in the murder of Malcolm X.
Muhammad Aziz, who was exonerated of the crime in November of 2021, filed a $40 million lawsuit agains the city in federal court over his wrongful conviction. An additional complaint was filed on behalf of the estate of Kahlil Islam, who was also wrongfully convicted of Malcolm X’s murder in March of 1966.
“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades – 42 years between them – as the result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” said attorney David Shanies, who is representing both plaintiffs, per AP News. “Justice delayed for far too long is justice denied. Mr. Aziz just turned 84 and Mr. Islam tragically died before seeing his name cleared.”
Malcolm X was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement, an advocate for black nationalism and a leader of the National of Islam. He was shot while on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on February 21, 1965. Aziz, who was then known as Norman 3X Butler, and Islam, who was known as Thomas 15X Johnson, were arrested in connection to his death on March 3, 1965. Both men were charged with first-degree murder.
Aziz was 26 years old when he was convicted. He and Islam unsuccessfully moved to have their convictions vacated in 1977. Aziz was released on parole in 1985.
New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance agreed to reexamine the case in January of 2020 following requests from Aziz’s lawyer and the Innocent Project. In February of 2020, Netflix released a documentary called “Who Killed Malcolm X?” which increased public interest in the case.
In the newest lawsuit, Aziz has accused the city of malicious prosecution, denial of due process, and government misconduct. His legal team argues that key evidence that proved Aziz’s innocent, including documents and testimony from undercover informants, was suppressed and kept from his original defense team as well as the judge and prosecution.
Talmadge Hayer, who confesses to the murder and who was apprehended at the scene of the crime, testified that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved in the crime.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said on July 14 that the city was “reviewing the lawsuit.”
“As someone who has fought for a fairer criminal justice system for my entire career, I believe the overturning of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam’s convictions was the just outcome,” the mayor told ABC News.
Aziz and the estate of Islam filed a lawsuit against the state of New York in December of 2021 seeking $20 million in damages.
“While I do not dwell on what my life might have been like had this travesty of justice never occurred, the deep and lasting trauma it caused cannot be overstated,” Aziz said at the time in a statement released by a law firm. “The more than 20 years that I spent in prison were stolen from me and my family, and while the official record now recognizes the truth that has been known for decades, nothing can undo the damage that my wrongful conviction caused to all of us.”
“Those responsible for depriving me of my liberty and for depriving my family of a husband, a father, and a grandfather should be held accountable,” he said, who maintained his innocence through his incarceration.