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Man exonerated in Malcolm X's murder sues New York state over wrongful conviction

2 men to be exonerated in Malcolm X killing
2 men to be exonerated in Malcolm X killing 01:59

Muhammad Aziz, one of the two men who last month were cleared of any culpability in the 1965 death of civil rights leader Malcolm X, sued New York state on Tuesday for damages of at least $20 million stemming from his wrongful conviction.

Last month, a judge exonerated Aziz and Khalil Islam, two of the three men convicted of the killing. The decision came after a two-year investigation from Manhattan's district attorney found that Aziz, 83, and Islam, who has since died, were wrongfully convicted.

"As a result of his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Mr. Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history," the lawsuit stated.

Attorney's for Aziz said that they also filed a document that's a precursor to a $40 million lawsuit against New York City and other individuals. A similar action is expected to be filed on behalf of Islam's estate. 

"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. 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," Aziz said in a statement provided by his attorneys. "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."

Malcolm X was fatally shot while giving a speech at New York's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. Aziz, Islam, and another man, Thomas Hagan, were convicted of the murder by a jury in 1966, but Aziz and Islam maintained their innocence. 

Hagan, also known as Talmadge Hayer, had told the court at trial that Aziz and Islam were not involved, according to CBS New York

Malcolm X
Muhammad Aziz, center, stands outside the courthouse with members of his family after his conviction in the killing of Malcolm X was vacated, Thursday, November 18, 2021, in New York.  Seth Wenig / AP

At last month's court hearing for Aziz and Islam's exoneration, New York District Attorney Cy Vance said the men did not receive a fair trial after his office's investigation discovered crucial FBI and NYPD evidence that had not been given to the defense.

"I apologize on behalf of our nation's law enforcement for this decades-long injustice which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection under the law," Vance said at the hearing.  

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.

The lawsuit is the first action taken by Aziz to receive monetary relief since the clearing of his record and "represents a modicum of compensation for the destruction wrought by this grievous miscarriage of justice," according to the filing. 

The New York Attorney General's office declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

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