A man who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Malcolm X and exonerated last month is suing New York state for $20 million for the “serious miscarriages of justice” that led to his wrongful conviction.
Muhammad Aziz, 83, was one of three men convicted in 1966 of Malcolm X’s murder in the first degree. He spent 20 years in prison and was released in 1985. Another man, Khalil Islam, was also convicted and was released in 1987. Islam died in 2009. A third man, Mujahid Halim was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Halim testified at a trial that he shot Malcolm X, and said, of Aziz and Islam, “neither of them had any involvement with the murder of Malcolm X,” according to the suit.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office began a review of the case in 2020 after a Netflix special raised questions about the case, and both Islam and Aziz’s convictions were vacated in November.
“As a result of his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Mr. Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history,” the lawsuit said.
The men were exonerated more than 55 years after their conviction, and The Innocence Project and lawyers for the men said new evidence showed that FBI documents and other evidence that had been available at the time of their trial was “withheld from both defense and prosecution.”
“The government’s misconduct that caused Mr. Aziz’s wrongful conviction, including the fabrication of evidence and suppression of compelling evidence of Mr. Aziz’s innocence, was unique in its extremity and audacity,” the lawsuit said.
Vance’s office declined to comment on the suit. On the day Aziz and Islam’s convictions were vacated, he apologized to them.
“I apologize on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee the equal protection of the law,” Vance said in November. “We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.”
Aziz’s suit details the physical injuries, emotional and mental distress and other damages he faced after spending 20 years in maximum-security prisons throughout New York state. He was 26 years old when he was incarcerated and released when he was 46.