The murder of the black civil rights activist Malcolm X († 39) in 1965 was a tragic turning point in US history. Now, 56 years after the brutal crime, two convictions against two of the alleged killers have been overturned.
New York – It is February 21, 1965. Malcolm X is giving a lecture in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City when two audience members start a heated argument. The US civil rights activist’s bodyguards intervene, leaving Malcolm X unprotected on stage. It’s his death sentence.
At that moment a man stands in front of the stage, pulls a sawed-off shotgun from his coat, and shoots. Two other assassins join in, rifling the 39-year-old with 21 shots. Shortly thereafter, assassin Thomas Hagan (then 23) was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
But while Hagan confesses to the murder, the arrested Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam protest their innocence – and are wrongly sentenced to 20 years in prison. “I apologize for serious and inexcusable violations of the law,” said New York District Attorney Cy Vance on Thursday.
Previously, an almost two-year investigation had come to the conclusion that the convictions against Muhammad Aziz (83) and Khalil Islam (†) could not be upheld because of sloppy investigations, contradicting testimony and lack of evidence. As of January 2020, enough evidence of the men’s innocence has accumulated – including FBI documents that were available at the time of the trial but withheld from the defense and indictment.
“I am an 83-year-old man who became a victim of the criminal justice system,” said Muhammad Aziz. After his conviction in 1966, Aziz was not released from prison until 1985. Khalil Islam was imprisoned for 20 years, died in 2009. “I don’t need this court, these defense lawyers or a piece of paper to tell me I’m innocent,” said Aziz.
Speaking in place of their late father during a press conference, Ameen and Shahid Johnson, Khalil Islam’s two sons, said, “We are delighted that justice is finally being served, but it is heartbreaking to know that he died without ever seeing how his name was acquitted for his wrongful conviction. Until his death he never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. “
And further: “His reputation meant a lot to him. Now we don’t have to constantly look around and fear that someone else will take revenge on us for thinking that he might have been the one who killed Malcolm X. “
Thomas Hagan, who confessed to murdering the civil rights icon, was paroled on April 27, 2010.