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Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam To Be Exonerated In 1965 Murder Of Malcolm X

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- After more than half a century, two men are set to be cleared in the assassination of Malcolm X.

CBS2's Alice Gainer on Wednesday visited a site in Washington Heights that used to be the Audubon Ballroom. It's where Malcolm X was assassinated 56 years ago. It's now a memorial and educational center.

There is now word that after a nearly two-year investigation the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is saying the wrongful convictions of two men will be vacated on Thursday.

Malcolm X was one of the civil rights era's most compelling and controversial figures. The influential Black leader was assassinated as he began a speech in the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.

Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam and a man later known as Thomas Hagan were convicted of murder the next year and sentenced to life in prison.

Hagan said he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X, but testified that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved.

Hagan was paroled in 2010. Aziz was released in 1985 and is now 83 years old. Islam was released in 1987. He professed his innocence before he died in 2009.

"I'm a righteous innocent individual, a real human being," he said at the time.

"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 -- even in 2021. 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 these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized," Aziz said in a statement released through the Innocence Project. "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. However, I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also take responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me."

But now, the Manhattan DA says the two men, who always maintained their innocence, will be exonerated.

Watch Alice Gainer's report --

A two-year investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney came after a Netflix series called "Who Killed Malcolm X" helped lead to the exoneration of the two men.

It's believed the FBI and NYPD withheld key evidence in this case that would likely have led to an acquittal against two men who served 20 years in prison. That evidence apparently pointed to other possible killers.

Abdur-Rahman Muhammad's years-long investigation of the murder was the center of the Netflix documentary. He told CBS2's Dick Brennan the investigation was a sham from day one.

"They cleared the ballroom and they had a scheduled dance that evening, so there was actually a party that took place in the very ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated just a few hours earlier," Muhammad said.

"Why do you think that happened so quickly?" Brennan asked.

"You can see very clearly that there was no real desire to solve this murder ... Even the rostrum with the bullet holes in it was just flung into the basement, where it remained for another 20 years or so," Muhammad said.

"There were still chalk marks around the bullet holes," said Phil Bertelsen, the documentary's producer/director.

He says the FBI had plenty of eyes and ears in the ballroom during the shooting, but the testimony was never heard.

"Nine informants, FBI informants ... and none of that testimony made its way to the prosecution," Bertelsen said.

"None of those government informants were called to the stand, and they weren't even brought to the attention of the prosecution," Muhammad said.

"If I wanted to do it, I couldn't have done it, so that means they knew what they were doing when they put me in jail," Aziz said.

"It's an incredibly sad situation where they were left as the patsies to one of the crimes of the century," State Sen. James Sanders said.

Sanders says the full story still hasn't been told.

"Who sent them? Not just the idiots pulling the trigger, but who were the main conspirators? Who are the ones who sat and organized all of these things?" he said.

"Who may still be alive," Brennan said.

"Yes," Sanders said.

Sanders wants money allocated for a further investigation, and he says he wants all the records in this case held for further study.

An official news conference announcing the exonerations happens Thursday.

CBS2's Alice Gainer contributed to this report, which first appeared on Nov. 17.

UPDATE: Judge Exonerates Muhammad Aziz And Kahlil Islam, Who Were Convicted Of Assassinating Malcolm X In 1965

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