Who are Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam? New York to Pay $36 million to Men Wrongfully Convicted in Malcolm X Assassination

The city of New York will pay $36 million for the wrongful convictions of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam who were exonerated in 2021 for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X.

The two men spent decades in prison. They had been convicted alongside Mujahid Abdul Halim in the assassination of Malcolm X, who was Black Muslims' most high-profile spokesman, during the speech at Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965.

But in 2021, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Said Aziz and Islam were "wrongfully convicted of the crime". New evidence found that FBI documents had been available at the time of the trial but were withheld from both the defense and prosecution.

David B. Shanies, their lawyer, had told the court that Aziz and Islam experienced the agony of decades in prison for a crime they did not commit. "They were robbed of their freedom in the prime of their lives and branded the killers of a towering civil rights leader. They, their families, and their communities have endured decades of unspeakable pain and suffering."

Their families suffered for more than 50 years because of the unjust convictions.


Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam

The two men were members of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad Aziz, formerly known as Norman 3X Bulter, changed his name while serving the prison sentence. He was a veteran of the US Navy. He spent 20 years in prison and nearly 36 years on parole. Aziz was 26-years-of age when he was arrested.

Khalil Islam, formerly known as Thomas 15X Johnson, was arrested from his home and charged with the murder of Malcolm X. Islam and Aziz knew each other as both were members of Nation of Islam mosque in Harlem. Their combined trial began on January 20, 1966 in New York County Supreme Court.

Malcolm X
Malcolm X was a powerful orator and black activist YouTube screen grab

In 2021, New York Supreme Court Judge Ellen Biben granted the motion to dismiss the convictions of Muhammad Aziz and late Khalil Islam, who passed away in 2009. Biben said "I regret that this court cannot undo the serious miscarriage of justice. There can be no question that is a case that cries out for fundamental justice."

Aziz and Islam were cleared of the conviction after a two-year probe conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr and attorneys found that the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that could have cleared them at their trial in 1966. Furthermore, the agency withheld the relationship it had with one witness (FBI informant) who testified against Aziz and Islam.

Vanessa Potkin, the director of special litigation at the Innocence Project, said it took five decades of research and activism for wrongful convictions to be officially acknowledged and rectified.


As part of the lawsuit, New York City agreed to pay $26 million. It will also pay an additional $10 million. David Shanies, the lawyer who represented Aziz and Islam, said the City recognized the grave injustices done here. "I commend the sincerity and speed with which the Comptroller's Office and the Corporation Counsel moved to resolve the lawsuits." He believes the settlements send a message that police and prosecutorial misconduct cause tremendous damage. "We must remain vigilant to identify and correct injustices."

A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department said it stands by Vance's opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted and 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.