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Judge exonerates two men convicted in 1965 killing of Malcolm X

A judge has exonerated two of the three men convicted of the 1965 killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X. The decision follows a two-year investigation from Manhattan's district attorney that determined Muhammad A. Aziz, 83, and the late Khalil Islam were "wrongfully convicted."

"I regret that this court cannot undo the serious miscarriage of justice," state Supreme Court judge Ellen Biben said in court Thursday. "There can be no question that this is a case that cries out for fundamental justice."

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said most of the physical evidence and witnesses couldn't be re-investigated because of the time that's passed and the investigation found that several witnesses told the FBI they had not seen Aziz or Islam with the murder weapon. The investigation also determined that prosecutors withheld evidence that could have cleared Aziz and Islam at trial.

"The events that brought us to court today should never have occurred; those events were and are the result of a process that was corrupt to its core - one that is all too familiar to black people in 2021," Aziz said in court Thursday. "While I do not need this court, these prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am glad that my family, my friends, and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all of these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized."

"I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system, and I do not know how many more years I have to be creative," he added. "However, I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me during the last 55 years."

Malcolm X, who was born Malcolm Little, was killed while giving a speech at New York's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. Aziz, Islam, and another man, Thomas Hagan, were convicted for the murder, but Aziz and Islam maintained their innocence. 

"This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities," Vance told The New York Times. "These men did not get the justice that they deserved."

In November 2020, a letter from former undercover NYPD officer Raymond Wood was released. Wood claimed he was coerced by his NYPD supervisors to lure members of Malcolm X's security detail into committing crimes that resulted in the FBI arresting them days before the shooting.

"There was no security to prevent the gunman from coming into the building," his cousin, Reginald Wood Jr. said.

The district attorney's office opened the investigation following the release of the Netflix documentary "Who Killed Malcolm X?" Phil Bertelsen, who produced the documentary, spoke about the film with the "CBS Evening News."

"The FBI had eyewitness testimony from presumably the nine informants that were in the room that day about who did the crime. Full descriptions of the men, and particularly the man who wielded the shotgun. That was information that was not given to the NYPD," Bertelsen said.

Malcolm X killing
From left: Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam in 1965. AP

In February, Malcolm X's daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, told CBS News her family always had questions about her father's death. "I can say I was surprised because I was caught off guard, but it's something that my family and many always wondered. But most importantly, we wanted to ensure that the truth is uncovered," she said.

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