NEW YORK — The City of New York has settled lawsuits filed on behalf of two men exonerated last year for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X and agreed to pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions that led to that both men spent decades behind bars.
New York State will pay another $10 million. David Shanies, a lawyer representing the men, confirmed the comparisons Sunday.
“Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam and their families have suffered from these unjust sentences for more than 50 years,” Shanies said in an email. “The city recognized the grave injustice that was committed here, and I commend the honesty and speed with which the Comptroller’s Office and the Corporation Counsel settled the lawsuits.”
Shanies said the settlements are sending a message that “police and prosecutorial misconduct is causing tremendous damage and we must remain vigilant to identify and right injustices.”
Last year a Manhattan judge dismissed the convictions of Aziz, now 84, and Islam, who died in 2009, after prosecutors said new evidence of witness intimidation and suppression of exculpatory evidence undermined the case against the men. Then-district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. apologized for law enforcement’s “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and public trust.”
The New York Legal Department said Sunday through a spokesman that it stands by Vance’s view that the men were wrongly convicted and that the financial agreement “brings a degree of justice to individuals who have served decades in prison and bear the stigma accused of being wrong in murdering an iconic figure.”
Shanies said the settlement documents will be signed in the next few weeks and the New York probate court must approve the settlement for Islam’s estate. The entire $36 million will be split equally between Aziz and the Estate of Islam.
Aziz and Islam, who pleaded innocent from the start of the 1965 murder at the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan, were paroled in the 1980s.
Malcolm X rose to national prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam, admonishing blacks to claim their civil rights “by any means necessary.” His autobiography, written with Alex Haley, remains a classic work of modern American literature.
Towards the end of Malcolm X’s life, he broke away from the Black Muslim organization and, after a trip to Mecca, began speaking out about the potential for racial unity. It earned him the wrath of some in the Nation of Islam who viewed him as a traitor.
He was shot while beginning a speech on February 21, 1965. He was 39 years old.
Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, and a third man were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim – also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan – admitted to shooting Malcolm X but said neither Aziz nor Islam were involved. The two offered alibis, and there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime. The case depended on eyewitnesses, although there were contradictions in their statements.
Lawyers for Aziz and Islam said in complaints that both Aziz and Islam were at their homes in the Bronx when Malcolm X was killed. They said Aziz spent 20 years in prison and lived more than 55 years with the hardship and humiliation that came with being wrongly branded as the convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history.
Islam spent 22 years in prison and still died hoping to clear his name.