Man Wrongfully Convicted of Killing Malcolm X Files Lawsuit against Federal Government, Alleges FBI Hid Proof of Innocence 

Muhammad Aziz in a Manhattan courtroom on Nov. 18, 2021, with his Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin (Image: Jeenah Moon for the Innocence Project).

By Audrey Sawyer

NEW YORK CITY, NY – When Malcolm X, known as one of the most vocal voices against racism in the nation, took the stage at Audubon Ballroom in New York on Feb. 21, 1965, with his wife Betty Shabazz and four children in the crowd, it was mere moments later shots were fired, and the icon was found dead.

Muhammad Aziz, convicted with two other men in 1966 of first-degree murder in Malcolm X’s assassination, is now seeking $40 million worth of compensation in a recently filed lawsuit, said CNN News.

Aziz said this amount is for his “immense and irreparable damage” he believes to have been caused by the federal government employees associated with the FBI, according to the lawsuit.

Aziz (exonerated in 2021 by New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge Ellen Biben) alleges the FBI hid evidence that would have shown his innocence at the time of the trial.

During the ruling at the time, CNN wrote from the words of New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge Ellen Biben: “I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give back the many years that were lost.”

A 22-month investigation led by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office with the Innocence Project and lawyers for both Aziz and Khalil Islam (also convicted in the killing) discovered evidence proving their innocence, like FBI documents that were withheld at trial. The DA’s office decided to review the case days after a Netflix documentary series “Who Killed Malcolm X?”

The lawsuit, said CNN, alleges many individuals affiliated with the FBI, such as former FBI Director Edgar Hoover, had participated in acts of corruption and misconduct by presenting false evidence in the case “to divert blame from certain individuals whom certain FBI employees did not want to see prosecuted for their crimes.”

The suit continues to claim that FBI employees had concealed information that would have exonerated Aziz “for the purposes of, inter alia, protecting and concealing the scope, nature, and activities of its domestic counterintelligence program, or known as COINTELPRO.”

COINTELPRO was an FBI-run covert surveillance program meant to monitor the Black Panthers alongside civil rights and other anti-war activists. While COINTELPRO was officially disbanded as of 1971, Hoover died in 1972.

As a result, Aziz (now 85) spent more than 20 years in prison before being released in 1985, said CNN, adding the 20 years were spent in maximum security prisons for a crime that Aziz did not commit, according to the lawsuit.

Aziz and Khalil Islam were only exonerated more than half a century after their wrongful convictions. Islam had died in 2009, but had been released in 1987 with a posthumous exoneration.

While Aziz, Islam, and another man, Mujahid Halim, were sentenced to life in prison after their convictions, Halim confessed to killing Malcolm X but had said that neither Aziz or Islam were involved in the assassination, said CNN.

According to the New York Times, Halim had attempted to absolve Aziz and Islam of the murder when he had testified in February 1986, saying, “I just want to testify that Butler (Aziz) and Johnson (Islam) had nothing to do with it. I was there, I know what happened, and I know people who were there.”

 In October 2022, New York had agreed to pay $26 million to settle lawsuits on behalf of both Aziz and Islam’s estates, said the Times.

In a statement to CNN, David B. Shanies acting as Aziz’s attorney stated that: “This is the last chapter in a legal battle that’s gone on for almost 60 years, and holding the federal government accountable for its misconduct would be a fitting end to this saga.”

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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