Two of the men convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 will more than likely be cleared of their convictions and have them thrown out on Thursday.
The exoneration of the two men, Muhammad A. Aziz (Norman A3X Butler), and Khalil Islam (Thomas 15X Johnson), represents a remarkable acknowledgment of grave errors made in a case of towering importance: the 1965 murder of one of America’s most influential Black leaders in the fight against racism.
This is according to what the Manhattan district attorney and lawyers for the two men have said. This will rewrite the official history of one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era. Prosecutors are now saying authorities withheld evidence in the civil rights leader’s killing.
The two men, known at the time of the killing as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, spent decades in prison for the murder on Feb. 21, 1965, in which three men opened fire inside a crowded ballroom at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan as Malcolm X was starting to speak.
One suspect, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was apprehended at the ballroom after being shot in the thigh. Mr. Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler, was arrested five days later, and Mr. Islam, known as Thomas 15X Johnson, another five days after that. Within a week, the three men, all members of the Nation of Islam, had been charged with murder.
And when Mr. Halim, also known as Talmadge Hayer, took the stand for the second time during the trial and confessed to the shooting of Malcolm X, he insisted that his two co-defendants were innocent.
However, on March 11, 1966, all three defendants were found guilty and, a month later, sentenced to life in prison.
Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., a Manhattan district attorney, and among the nation’s most prominent local prosecutors, who conducted, with the Innocence Project and the office of David Shanies, a civil rights lawyer, are the contributing factors leading to the exoneration of the two innocent men.
And at a time when racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system are once again the focus of a national protest movement, it reveals a bitter truth; that two of the people convicted of killing Malcolm X, Black Muslim men hastily arrested and tried on shaky evidence, were themselves victims of the very discrimination and injustice that he denounced in language that has echoed across the decades.
Altogether, the re-investigation found that had the new evidence been presented to a jury, it may well have led to acquittals. And Mr. Aziz, 83, who was released in 1985, and Mr. Islam, who was released in 1987 and died in 2009, would not have been compelled to spend decades fighting to clear their names.
“This wasn’t a mere oversight,” said Deborah Francois, a lawyer for the men. “This was a product of extreme and gross official misconduct.”
In an interview, Mr. Vance apologized on behalf of law enforcement, which he said had failed the families of the two men. Vance said, “Those failures could not be remedied, but what can we do is acknowledge the error, the severity of the error.”