Exonerated Men In Malcolm X Murder Case Awarded $36 Million

Although Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were exonerated in the killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X, their back and forth with legal proceedings may finally be over. According to the Associated Press, Aziz and the estate of the late Islam were awarded a $36 million settlement after filing a lawsuit last year.

“Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years,” explained their lawyer in an emailed statement. “The City recognized the grave injustices done here, and I commend the sincerity and speed with which the Comptroller’s Office and the Corporation Counsel moved to resolve the lawsuit.”

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According to the report, throughout the next few weeks, documents will be signed, and the New York court that handles probate matters must approve the settlement for Islam’s estate. The settlement is set to be divided equally among the two parties.

Malcolm X Holding newspapers Black and White Photo
Portrait of human rights activist Malcolm X reading stories about himself in a pile of newspapers circa 1963.

Nearly one year ago, Aziz, 84, and Islam’s convictions were overturned after an investigation uncovered evidence previously withheld by law. Both men spent more than 20 years in prison, with Islam passing in 2009 before the clearing of his name. He was 74.

“It’s long overdue,” said Bryan Stevenson a civil rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative at the time. “This is one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century who commanded enormous attention and respect. And yet, our system failed.”

“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” added Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. “These men did not get the justice that they deserved.”

The final print edition of JET magazine with a cover declaring it "An American Icon"
The final print edition of JET magazine with a cover declaring it "An American Icon"

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Aziz and Islam—then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson—and a third man, Talmadge Hayer were convicted of murder in March 1966. Hayer, who now goes by Mujahid Abdul Halim, confessed to the crime and claimed the two were not involved.

According to AP, the New York City Law Department “stands by” Vance’s opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted. It hopes the financial agreement “brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”

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