Two men set to be cleared in the 1965 killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X

In 1965, civil rights leader Malcolm X was murdered in New York City.
Three men were convicted of his killing. Two of them have always said they were innocent. Now, more than 50 years later, those two men were cleared in Malcolm X's death, their lawyers said.
One of the men is Muhammad Aziz. He is 83 years old. The other is Khalil Islam. He has since died.
There was a new, nearly two-year-long reinvestigation. It looked at Aziz and Islam's trial. Investigators found that authorities held back evidence. This information would have been favorable to the men's case.
Aziz called out the criminal justice system. It must "take responsibility" for causing him harm. He said it still is an unfair system today.
Still, he was glad people would get to see "the truth."
Cyrus Vance Jr. is the Manhattan district attorney. This office handled the original case. He asked a judge to clear the two men of the killing. On November 18, 2021, Judge Ellen Biben dismissed the convictions of Aziz and Islam. This came more than a half-century after they were sentenced to life in prison.
Malcolm X's Journey
Malcolm X was the Nation of Islam's main spokesperson.
The Nation of Islam is an organization. It was started in the 1930s. Malcolm X was a member for a while. The organization combined parts of traditional Islam with Black nationalist ideas. Islam is a religion. Black nationalism was based on the idea that Black Americans should support themselves and be proud of their race.
At the time, the Nation of Islam's ideas were debated. They called for separating people of different races. This, members believed, was a path toward growth and understanding oneself. Malcolm X famously urged Black people to claim civil rights "by any means necessary." He later spoke against racism.
About a year before his death, Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam. He later made the pilgrimage trip to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is considered to be the holiest site for Muslims. He returned with new views. One was for racial unity. Some in the Nation of Islam saw him as a traitor.
On February 21, 1965, he was giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. There, he was shot and killed. Malcolm X was 39 years old.
Quick Arrests And Convictions
There was a trial in 1966. Aziz, Islam, and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, were convicted of murder. Halim was also known as Thomas Hagan. All three were sentenced to life in prison.
A man is escorted by a crowd.
Image 1. Khalil Islam (center) is booked as the third suspect in the slaying of Malcolm X on March 3, 1965. Islam, previously known as Thomas 15X Johnson, one of two men convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X, is set to be cleared after more than 50 years. Detective John Keeley is on the right. Photo: AP
Hagan said he was one of three gunmen. In 1977, he said that neither Aziz nor Islam was involved. The two maintained that they were innocent at their 1966 trial. No physical evidence linked them to the crime. At the time they were known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.
Hagan was paroled in 2010. Parole is the early release from prison on the promise of good behavior.
He identified two other men as gunmen. Yet no one else was ever arrested.
New Investigation Finds Important Information
The New York Times reported the re-investigation found that the FBI had important information. Evidence pointed to other suspects. Also, a witness supported Aziz's alibi. Aziz said he was at home with a leg injury at the time of the shooting.
The witness had never been interviewed before by officials. He said he had called Aziz the day of the killing, the newspaper said. Aziz was at home.
The review found other key details. Undercover police officers were in the ballroom when the shooting began. Prosecutors knew about it but did not mention it during the trial. Prosecutors are the lawyers who often represent the government in court cases. They try to prove that someone committed a crime.
Police also knew that someone had called a New York City newspaper earlier that day. The caller said that Malcolm X would be killed.
Men Always Said They Were Innocent
Aziz was released in 1985. Islam was released two years later. He died in 2009. Both worked to clear their names. Still, many did not believe them.
Deborah Francois is a lawyer. Her office supported Islam and Aziz. She called the convictions major mistakes. They happened, she believes, because of an unfair criminal justice system. It was "weighed against people of color."
In 2020, Netflix aired a documentary show. It was called "Who Killed Malcolm X?" It looked into Aziz and Islam's story. The other killers had escaped, scholars believed. The Manhattan district attorney's office also saw the show. It made them look into the case again.