Man wrongly convicted of murdering Malcolm X sues NYC for $40M 

Lawyers for Muhammad Aziz, who spent two decades in prison for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X, filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday.

Muhammad A. Aziz, who spent two decades in prison for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the city of New York, seeking a $40 million redress after his conviction was vacated last year, The New York Times reported. 

Aziz was convicted in 1966 for the assassination of the towering civil rights icon in the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan a year after he’d left the Nation of Islam. Manhattan Judge Ellen Biben granted the motion to vacate the conviction against he and co-defendant Khalil Islam in November, 55 years later, after a 22-month review of the two men’s convictions.

Muhammad Aziz (center) stands outside a New York City courthouse with loved ones and lawyers after his conviction in the killing of Malcolm X was thrown out on November 18, 2021, 55 years after his 1966 guilty verdict. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“I do not need this court, these prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent,” Aziz said in a stern voice after walking out of the courtroom last fall, per The New York Times. “I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system.”

Aziz had reportedly been in talks with the city for a settlement, but his new lawsuit signals that those negotiations have broken down. His attorneys are said to be worried that the suit could be the beginning of a long legal battle that may outlive the now 84-year-old man.

Islam died in 2009 at age 74. His estate has reportedly filed a related claim.

“I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused to me,” Aziz said in November, contending that his conviction was part of a corrupt process “that is all too familiar to Black people, even in 2021.”

“What I am going to begin by saying directly to Mr. Aziz and his family, and the family of Mr. Islam, and of Malcolm X is that I apologize,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said then in court. “We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.”

A married 26-year-old father of six youngsters at the time, Aziz, Islam and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, were all found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Malcolm X. Halim confessed to the crime — which was committed by gunmen — and his conviction stands. When convicted in ’66, Halim said the other men were innocent. 

Aziz “spent 20 years, during what should have been the prime of his life, locked in prison for a crime he did not commit,” his lawyers said in court documents. “The damage done to Mr. Aziz and his family was immense and irreparable.”

“I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost,” said Ellen N. Biben, the State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan, who threw out the conviction in November to a round of applause in the courtroom. 

In an email statement, Mayor Eric Adams said that the city was reviewing the lawsuit. “As someone who has fought for a fairer criminal justice system for my entire career,” he maintained, “I believe the overturning of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam’s convictions was the just outcome.” 

The city of New York has paid tens of millions to previous victims of wrongful convictions, including the five men exonerated in the 1989 murder of a jogger in Central Park, now known as the Exonerated Five. That settlement was $1 million for each year they spent in prison. However, the case of Aziz and Islam and its historic importance may warrant a larger payout. He is seeking $2 million for each year.

The men and others called on Congress, the FBI and Vance, who’s stepped down, to reopen the case into Malcolm X’s assassination. The case is now unsolved in the official record. 

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