The men whose convictions in Malcolm X’s assassination are expected to be vacated on Thursday must have seemed like irresistible suspects to investigators who were searching for the assassins in 1965.
Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, then known as Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson, were lieutenants in the Nation of Islam’s militia and worked at the Harlem mosque that Malcolm X had led before falling out with the sect’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.
Mr. Aziz, Mr. Islam, and Benjamin Brown were being held on bail for beating and shooting a defectionary who had established a mosque in Bronx.
Those charges were later dismissed, but their status as Nation of Islam enforcers led the police to them in the days after Malcolm X’s assassination. Mr. Aziz, then 30 and Mr. Islam at 26, were tried and convicted along with Talmadge Hayer (later changed his name as Mujahid Halim).
Mr. Halim confessed the murder to the witness stand but claimed that Mr. Aziz, Mr. Islam and Mr. Islam weren’t involved. The testimony of multiple witnesses was sufficient to convict them.
A decade later, Mr. Halim signed affidavits for his co-defendant’s appeal that identified four Nation of Islam members from New Jersey as his co-conspirators. However, a judge dismissed his claim and upheld Mr. Aziz’s and Mr. Islam’s convictions.
After serving in the Navy, Mr. Aziz spent 20 years in prison, before he was paroled in 1985. Mr. Islam, who was once Malcolm X’s driver, was released in 1987. Both claimed that they were framed by the true killers, and whoever ordered the assassination.
“They picked the right guy, because even if I felt I was going berserk watching myself get framed, they knew I would never talk, never give anyone up,” Mr. Islam said in a 2007 profile in New York magazine. “That was my mentality: straight up, what I thought was a righteous Muslim. The truth is, I was just the patsy. The perfect patsy.”
They served their sentences in some of New York’s most notorious prisons. Mr. Aziz was an Attica imam before the 1971 riots. Mr. Islam, however, was at Auburn at the time of the 1970 riots.
Both men changed their names while in prison and converted to a mainstream version of Islam. Mr. Islam rejected all teachings of The Nation. Mr. Aziz obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies. After his release, he worked as the chief of security at Harlem’s mosque.
Their personal relationships suffered from the outside. Mr. Aziz’s wife left him, while Mr. Islam asked his wife for a divorce. Their children — Mr. Aziz had six and Mr. Islam had three — were all younger than 11 when they were arrested and grew up without their fathers present.
“When I left them, the oldest was 5,” Mr. Aziz said near the end of a recent documentary series, “Who Killed Malcolm X?” He added, “I’m a father in name, I believe, only, not being there.”
After finding a purpose with the Nation of Islam, Mr. Islam had overcome a heroin addiction. He maintained until his death that he had nothing to do with Malcolm X’s assassination, though he said he saw it as inevitable.
“He was a sitting duck,” Mr. Islam told New York magazine. “Everyone’s got their destiny. He had his, I had mine. Our paths crossed, and we both suffered.”
Source: NY Times