Two men exonerated in the 1965 murder of Malcolm X will be awarded a $36 million settlement after lawsuits were filed on their behalf against the city and state of New York last year.
New York City agreed to pay $26 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam. Islam was posthumously exonerated of the murder. Meanwhile, New York State also agreed to pay an additional $10 million.
A spokesman for the New York Department of Justice told ABC News Sunday night that the settlement “brings a degree of justice to individuals who have served decades in prison and bear the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”
“Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Vance, who, based on his investigation, stated that ‘there is one final conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongly convicted of this crime.'” he added.
David Shanies, the attorney representing Aziz and the late Khalil Islam, confirmed the terms of the settlement to ABC News Sunday night.
The settlement comes after Aziz and the Estate of Islam sued New York City on July 14, seeking $40 million for malicious prosecution, denial of due process rights and government misconduct. Aziz and the Khalil Islam Estate also filed two multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits against the New York state government in December 2021.
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance moved in November 2021 to vacate the convictions of 84-year-old Muhammad Aziz and co-defendant Khalil Islam, citing “newly discovered evidence and a failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.”
“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades – 42 years between them – as a result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” Shanies said in July. “Justice delayed too long is justice denied. Mr Aziz has just turned 84 and Mr Islam tragically passed away before his name was cleared.”
“No compensation should be deferred to these men and their families for the grave injustice they have suffered,” he added.
Aziz, a US Navy veteran and father of six, was 26 when he was arrested for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. He spent 20 years in prison.
Aziz was released on parole in 1985. Two years later, Islam was released after 22 years in prison. They each appealed their convictions and always maintained their innocence. Islam died in 2009 at the age of 74. His estate filed a corresponding lawsuit.
Aziz and Islam were members of the Nation of Islam and affiliated with Malcolm X’s Mosque No. 7 in Harlem.
Talmadge Hayer – the confessed assassin of Malcolm X who was caught at the scene – testified in court that Aziz and Islam were not involved in the murder. In the late 1970s, Hayer signed an affidavit naming four other men he said had been involved in the planning and execution of the murder.
However, the case only resumed when interest in the case rose in 2020 after the release of Who Killed Malcolm X? — a Netflix documentary that follows the work of independent historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who has spent decades investigating the murder.
“After watching the Netflix documentary, I thought there was enough to watch,” Vance told ABC’s Soul of a Nation Presents: X/onerated – The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice News that aired on Hulu in February.
Vance last year issued an apology on behalf of the NYPD and FBI for what he called “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and public trust.”
In his first television interview since his exoneration, Aziz spoke about the false conviction and trauma of systemic racism on ABC News’ “Soul of a Nation.”
“When God is on your side, it doesn’t matter who is against you. God is on my side,” Aziz said in the interview, which aired in February.
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ABC News’ Melia Patria contributed to this report.