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Netflix series prompts Manhattan District Attorney to review Malcolm X assassination

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was brutally gunned down while addressing a group at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Now, five decades later, a new documentary focusing on his assassination has prompted the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to review his murder.

"Who Killed Malcolm X?" originally premiered on Fusion last year, but has found a wider audience after being added to Netflix last Friday. The six-part docuseries follows historian and investigative journalist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad as he takes a deep dive in an attempt to answer the title's question.

For years, many scholars, including Manning Marable, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," have maintained that the wrong people were incarcerated for the crime. Netflix's latest documentary argues two of the men convicted of Malcolm X's murder could not have been at the scene of the crime.

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a controversial black militant leader and civil rights figure who, while in prison for burglary, converted to the black Muslim religious movement the Nation of Islam, which preached black self-reliance and a return of the African diaspora to Africa. He later repudiated the movement and embraced Sunni Islam in 1964. A year later, Malcolm X was assassinated by three men at age 39.  

Three members of the Nation of Islam were arrested soon after the murder: Mujahid Abdul Halim (formerly known as Talmadge X Hayer), Muhammad Abdul Aziz (formerly known as Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (formerly known as Thomas 15X Johnson). All three men were convicted in 1966 and sentenced to life in prison.  

According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that aims to exonerate those wrongly convicted, Aziz and Islam are innocent. The organization notes there was no physical evidence connecting Aziz or Islam to the crime and they state that Aziz had an alibi — at the time of the assassination, he was at home nursing leg injuries. 

Aziz, now 81, still maintains his innocence and is fighting to clear his name. Islam died in 2009.

Undated picture of Malcolm X (C), the leader of the Organization for the Afro-American unity. STF

Now, in light of new information revealed in the docuseries, the Manhattan DA's office will begin a preliminary review into Aziz's conviction. 

"District Attorney Vance has met with representatives from the Innocence Project and associated counsel regarding this matter. He has determined that the district attorney's office will begin a preliminary review of the matter, which will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken," Director of Communications Danny Frost said in a statement shared with CBS News.

The District Attorney has assigned senior trial counsel Peter Casolaro and deputy chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit Charles King to lead the preliminary review.

Barry Scheck, Innocence Project co-founder and special counsel said that he was "grateful" that the DA's office has agreed to conduct a review of Aziz's conviction.

"Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, we are especially encouraged that Mr. Vance has assigned two highly respected prosecutors, Peter Casolaro and Charles King, to work on this re-investigation," Scheck said in a statement.

"Mr. Casolaro did extraordinary work on the case of the Exonerated Five and Mr. King is an experienced member of the Conviction Integrity Program. We look forward to working cooperatively with them to see that justice is done."

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