Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam were both exonerated after serving years in prison for the murder of the iconic civil rights leader. Aziz, 84, was released in 1985, and Islam, was released in 1987.
Islam passed away in 2009 at the age of 74. Aziz and Islam’s estate will split the settlement.
The agreement was reached with the Law Department, which is led by Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, the city corporation counsel and Brad Lander, the city comptroller.
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department hopes that the settlement can somehow rectify what has been described as a “serious miscarriage of justice.”
“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,” Paolucci said 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.”
“It’s tragic that he died never knowing that his name would be cleared,” said David B.Shanies, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “So, given the importance of the case and the immense length of time that this wrongful conviction lingered, it was important for the government to act quickly to do what was within its power to make it right.”
Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and the men’s legal team conducted a 22-month investigation which found that "the prosecutors, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department had withheld key evidence that probably would have led to acquittals had it been presented to a jury.”
After leaving the Nation of Islam, and establishing the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X was assassinated while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on Feb. 21, 1965. He was 39.
Doubts about Aziz and Islam's convictions were raised by historians and legal experts for years. The two men and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, testified and vehemently denied the accusations levied against them during their trial in 1966. Later during the trial, Halim admitted to being involved in the murder while Aziz and Islam maintained their innocence. Aziz and Islam were both sentenced to life in prison.
Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project believes that the case should have been overturned a long time ago.
“This was an exoneration in plain sight,” he argued. “Historians had long determined that these two men were wrongly convicted. This case should have been overturned decades ago."