After an investigation revealed that the government had withheld vital evidence about one the most notorious civil rights murders, two of the Malcolm X assassins are being thrown in jail.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr. the Manhattan district attorney said that he will file a court motion Thursday acknowledging that the men, now known as Muhammad A. Aziz or Khalil Islam, didn’t get a fair trial. He stated that prosecutors will join the lawyers for the two men to ask a judge not to revoke their convictions during an afternoon hearing.
The defense lawyers and Manhattan prosecutors reviewed the case for 22 months, concluding that the men had been wrongfully sentenced.
The investigation revealed documents that showed the district attorney’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department failed to examine key information and did not disclose accounts of witnesses and informants that might have helped to exonerate the men.
Instead, Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, Black Muslim men then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, each spent more than 20 years in prison for the murder of Malcolm X, a hustler-turned-minister who became an icon of the civil rights movement and was shot to death inside a crowded Harlem ballroom.
They have maintained their innocence for over a century. Mujahid Halim was a third man convicted in the assassination. He confessed to it on the witness stand. But the men’s appeals were denied, and their convictions were ultimately upheld in the late 1970s.
Eyewitnesses who gave inconsistent testimony and misidentified the men as their accomplices in the crime are all dead. Proving the men’s actual innocence 56 years later was not possible, investigators said.
The reviewers could not also identify the four men Mr. Halim claimed were his co-conspirators. Nor did they resolve bigger mysteries about who ordered the assassination, which came after Malcolm X’s fraught split with the Nation of Islam.
The idea that Mr. Islam, who died in 2009 at the age of 74, and Mr. Aziz, 83, were wrongfully convicted has long been clear to scholars of Malcolm X’s life and death, who have backed calls from his family for the case to be reopened.
That possibility went unexamined by the authorities until last year, when the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., agreed to review the case ahead of the release of a documentary series, “Who Killed Malcolm X?”
Mr. Vance’s Conviction Integrity Unit examined accounts and documents featured in the series, books and blogs asserting that law enforcement authorities knew the true identities of the perpetrators, particularly the man who historians believe to have fired the fatal shotgun blast.
The probe also unearthed documents revealing that officials failed to disclose the presence of undercover police officers in the ballroom, as well as descriptions of the gunmen by informants and witnesses that corroborated Mr. Halim’s detailed account of the crime.
The panel found that the omissions directly related to the identity question at trial’s core.
For decades, Malcolm X’s murder has captured the attention of scholars. But there is a critical question: Were the wrong people convicted of the crime?
Mujahid Abdul Haim, one of the three men implicated in the 1966 murder trial, confessed. But he also testified that his co-defendants — Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam — were innocent and that he knew, but would not name, the actual assassins.
A decade later Mr. Halim gave two sworn affirmations as part of an unsuccessful appeal from Mr. Aziz. In the documents, he listed four other men who he claimed were involved in the assassination. They were all members of a Nation of Islam Mosque in Newark, N.J. He only gave partial names.
The review by the Manhattan district attorney’s office did not pin the crime on any other suspects. Scholars have drawn their own conclusions about Mr. Halim’s identity and the roles of the four men.
Experts on the assassination believe that William Bradley, a Newark mosque member who was once in prison for threatening to kill three persons, fired the first shotgun blast. Mr. Halim identified William X as the man with the shotgun. He died in 2018.
Manning Marable, a historian and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Malcolm X, suspected that Bradley was likely entangled in the assassination plot. He was accompanied by Leon Davis and Leon Davis, two members of the Newark mosque. and Benjamin Thomas.
Mr. Marable believed that Mr. Davis was most likely directed at Mr. Thomas by a mosque minister to plan the assassination.
Most historians agree that Mr. Davis was seated next to Mr. Halim in first row of the ballroom. They began firing handguns at each other after the shotgun blast struck him.
Mr. Davis was approximately 20 years old, lived in Paterson (N.J.), and worked at an electronic plant. His name appears in an unpublished 1965 F.B.I. report that say a New York police lieutenant was looking for him, the district attorney’s investigators said. It is not known what the search result was.
In 1986, Mr. Thomas, then 29, was an assistant secretary at Newark mosque. Mr. Marable wrote that it was at Thomas’ home that the team members hammered out details of the plot, including the fact that Mr. Bradley would fire his first round.
Baba Zak Kondo, historian, believes that Wilbur McKinley was the fifth man involved in the shooting. He was a 30-year-old worker in the construction industry at the time. He is most likely now dead. In an affidavit, Mr. Halim said a man named “Wilbur” or “Kinly” had created a diversion at the back of the ballroom before the shooting, igniting a furled sock as a makeshift smoke bomb.
History experts insist that other details are just as important as the men they believe were responsible for the plot. It is still unclear who ordered and planned this killing.
“The question is not simply the other four men who did kill Malcolm,” David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian, says in the second part of the Netflix series. “The more historically crucial questions are who else in Newark, in New York and most essentially, in Chicago, were active participants in arranging Malcolm’s murder.”
A new interview with a witness has been added to the arsenal of evidence that prosecutors have amassed to show that the two men who were convicted of the assassination Malcolm X were not given a fair trial.
Investigators identified the witness as J.M. and he is an 80 year-old Brooklyn resident. And what he recalled of his experience on Feb. 21, 1965 — the day Malcolm X was shot to death — supports the alibi of one of the men who was convicted of the killing, Muhammad A. Aziz.
Mr. Aziz, a member of Harlem Mosque of the Nation of Islam, was also known as Norman 3X Butler at that time. In 1966, he testified before the jury that his legs were injured on the day of shooting and that he was so pained that he went to a hospital. He claimed he never went to Audubon Ballroom.
According to Mr. Aziz, he told the jury that he was on the couch listening with the radio when he heard a report on Malcolm X being shot. He then called his local mosque. He then called his local mosque to report that he spoke with a man he called Captain Joseph about the murder.
Fifty-five years later, investigators interviewed J.M., who told them that he had been on “phone duty” at the mosque that day and had talked to Mr. Aziz about Malcolm X having been shot. J.M. J.M.
Investigators believe that J.M. Investigators say that J.M. had told this story to many people over the years. His daughter, who was also present during the interview had heard it many times. But his story had not made it into the official record of Malcolm X’s assassination.
It was supposed to be a new dawn in the life of Malcolm X.
One year after his break from the Nation of Islam, he was the leader of two organisations: the religious group Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a Pan-Africanist organization he had founded to promote civil rights.
Malcolm X intended for the rally at Audubon Ballroom on Sunday February 21, 1965 to be a reintroduction. In a speech earlier that week, he said he planned to explain the new group: “What our aims are; our objectives are; what our program is; whether or not you want to be identified with it.”
However, those plans were thwarted by three gunmen who in a carefully planned sequence of events assassinated Malcolm X while he stood at a podium and tried to demonstrate his vision for the future.
Some details are not agreed upon. Witnesses at the 1966 trial of the three men who were arrested and charged in the killing — Mujahid Abdul Halim, Khalil Islam and Muhammad A. Aziz — disagreed about which defendant held which gun, and about which had created a distraction before the assassination.
This much is known.
It happened in the Upper Manhattan ballroom at Broadway and 165th Street. Malcolm X had just begun to speak, when, according to witnesses, one man shouted at another something along the lines of, “Get your hands out of my pocket!”
A person also threw a smoke bomb to the floor at the back of the ballroom. It caused a disturbance that sent alarms through the hall.
A man with a sawed off shotgun approached Malcolm X and shot him twice in the chest. This threw him backwards. Two men approached the prone leader and shot him with semiautomatic pistols. The first had a.45 caliber pistol, the second had a 9 millimeter Luger.
Mr. Halim was among the men with guns. He also went under Talmadge Hayer (among other names)
Two gunmen managed to escape, but police arrested Mr. Halim outside the ballroom. He had been shot in the leg trying to escape, and was wounded. He was carrying a magazine containing ammunition for a.45 caliber gun.
Ronald Timberlake, a witness, took the pistol and later handed it over to F.B.I. The 12-gauge shotgun, which was 12 gauge, was found in an anteroom close to the stage. The Luger was never found.
Malcolm X was pronounced deceased from the injuries he sustained while being shot.
History and scholars have struggled to understand the events surrounding Malcolm X’s assassination. Here is a timeline.
Feb. 21, 1965
Malcolm X is assassinated at Upper Manhattan
Malcolm X was killed while addressing a crowd in Washington Heights at the Audubon Ballroom at Broadway. He was declared dead the next day.
March. 10, 1965
3 Nation of Islam members have been indicted for the murder.
Mujahid Abdul Haim, a member of The Nation of Islam was arrested as he fled a ballroom. He was known at the time as Talmadgehayer and later as Thomas Hagan.
Two other men were arrested within two weeks and later indicted in connection with the killing: Muhammad Abdul Aziz, formerly Norman 3X Butler, and Khalil Islam (also called Thomas 15X Johnson).
Feb. 28, 1966
Mujahid Abdul Halim admits to the crime and claims that the other two men are innocent.
The trial over Malcolm X’s killing began on Jan. 22, and all three men took the witness stand to deny the accusations. However, Mr. Halim was able to testify again a few weeks later, telling jurors he had been involved with the murder and that his co-defendants weren’t guilty. He declined to identify the true killers.
All three men were convicted by the jury and sentenced to 20 years to their final sentences.
1977 to 1978
Mujahid Abdul Halim files two affidavits in which he implicates four other people in the crime.
Between 1977 and 1978 Mr. Halim filed affidavits detailing the circumstances of the killing. He also reaffirmed his claim to innocence that his two codefendants had been innocent. He gave partial details of four members of a Nation of Islam Mosque in Newark, N.J. as his accomplices in the assassination.
A defense lawyer requested that the case be reopened to consider new evidence. However, the judge denied the motion.
1985 and 1987
Khalil Islam, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, and Muhammad Abdul Aziz were granted parole two years apart.
After Mr. Aziz’s attempts to be released on parole had been twice denied, his application was approved in 1985, and he was released after 20 years in prison, when he was 46 years old.
Two years later Mr. Islam was also granted parole. He died in 2009.
In 2010, Mr. Halim was freed.
The Justice Department declines reinvestigating the case.
The publication of Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” a best-selling biography that attempted to reshape the perception of Malcolm X’s legacy, spurred new calls for the Justice Department and the New York State attorney general to start full investigations into the assassination.
Experts suggested that a federal law could allow for a review of cold cases of violent crimes against Blacks dating back to 1970. However, the calls for a fresh investigation failed to materialize.
Manhattan D.A. He says he will review it as a Netflix series airs.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced that he was beginning a preliminary investigation of the case. Netflix had just released a series that argued Mr. Aziz, Mr. Islam couldn’t have been at the Audubon Ballroom on Malcolm X’s death.
“Who Killed Malcolm X?” explored the potential culpability of the four members of the Nation of Islam mosque in New Jersey mentioned in Mr. Halim’s affidavits. The episodes depicted the four men’s involvement as an open secret in the city.
The Manhattan district attorney’s decision in February to review the convictions of two men for the assassination of Malcolm X coincided with the release of a six-part documentary on Netflix, “Who Killed Malcolm X?,” that made a strong case they were innocent.
They are expected to be exonerated by Thursday. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad was the host of the documentary and pointed to it as the catalyst. He tweeted Wednesday that the exoneration was a “historic milestone.”
As a result of our Netflix series “Who Killed Malcolm X?”, tomorrow the US history books will be rewritten when two men wrongfully convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X will be exonerated after 55 years, a historic milestone!!
— Abdur-Rahman Muhammad (@arm_legacy) November 17, 2021
It wasn’t the first documentary film to change the public perception of a case in recent times. This forced the authorities into re-examining their decisions.
In 2015, a six-part HBO documentary called “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” started a chain of events that led to the conviction of Mr. Durst, a New York real estate scion, for the killing of Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000. In October, he was sentenced without parole to life.
The documentary delved into the deaths of not only Ms. Berman but also of Mr. Durst’s wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, who disappeared in 1982. Earlier this month, Mr. Durst was charged with his wife’s murder as well.
Dick DeGuerin, Mr. Durst’s lead defense attorney, encouraged Mr. Durst not to cooperate with the filmmakers but he did anyway, handing over hours of interviews and access to troves of documents including telephone bills, credit card statements, and legal records.
Hours before the final part of the documentary aired, Mr. Durst was arrested on a murder warrant for Ms. Berman’s killing. “It’s abundantly clear we wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for ‘The Jinx,’” Mr. DeGuerin told The New York Times in 2017.
After being found guilty of a decades-old scheme to recruit girls and women for sex, R. Kelly could spend his entire life in prison. That conviction came two years after some of the women accusing him of abusing them as teenagers shared their stories in a 2019 Lifetime documentary series called “Surviving R. Kelly.”
In the early 2000s, a Chicago music critic reported on allegations against Kelly. Kelly was then acquitted in 2008 of child pornography.
Still, the women telling their stories onscreen led to renewed interest in Mr. Kelly’s activities from law enforcement. After the documentary aired the singer was brought up in New York, Illinois, and Minnesota on new criminal charges.
Podcasts can also influence legal cases. “In the Dark,” a 2019 podcast by journalists at APM Reports, looked closely at how a white prosecutor in Mississippi, over the span of several decades, had tried Curtis Flowers, who is Black, six times for the 1996 killings of four people in a furniture store.
The reporters raised doubts about the prosecutors’ forensic evidence. The George Polk award, a prestigious journalism award, was awarded to the show.
The U.S. Supreme Court found that the prosecutor in the cases had violated the Constitution by keeping Black jurors away from the cases. And months after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court of Mississippi decided to throw out the case.
Al Sharpton, one civil rights leader who inherited Malcolm X’s mantle, was horrified to hear that two men were found guilty in 1965 of his murder and were to be exonerated this week.
Mr. Sharpton said in an interview Wednesday that the move was particularly striking because Malcolm X had become a symbol of the injustices that Black people suffered, calling the miscarriage of justice in the men’s case “a strange and perverted irony.”
Mr. Sharpton also stated, “The turn of events raises serious questions about who was really involved with the shooting.”
“Clearly one person could not have engineered what happened when he was killed in front of hundreds of people and got away,” Mr. Sharpton said. “It raises the question of whether law enforcement was involved, as has always been felt, and whether or not these tracks were covered.”
Mr. Sharpton was nine years old at the time of the assassination and grew close to Malcolm X’s family. Malcolm X’s wife, Betty Shabazz, is the godmother of his two daughters.s
He was on his way from Georgia to hold a prayer Vigil for Ahmaud Abery. White residents of Brunswick chased him and shot and killed him. His killers are currently on trial; Mr. Sharpton described their actions as a modern day lynching.
Source: NY Times