A historic motion filed in a New York Supreme courtroom Thursday exonerated the accused two men previously convicted in connection with the murder of Malcolm X.
For over half a century, Muhammad A. Aziz (aka Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (aka Thomas 15X Johnson) have been blamed for the Feb. 21, 1965 killing of the civil rights leader at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. Although the two men have reserved their claims of having never committed the cold-blooded deed, their innocence has hardly been considered plausible, until Nov. 18, a date that allowed surviving Aziz, 83, to walk free. Islam died in 2009.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. stepped into 100 Centre St. on Nov. 18 and argued to New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge Ellen Biben that both men did not commit the infamous murder and should be exonerated of the crimes.
“But I want to begin by saying directly to Mr. Aziz and his family, to the family of Mr. Islam, and the family of Malcolm X, that I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust. 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. 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,” DA Vance said.
This realization came after investigations by not only Vance’s office over the past 22 months, but also years of advocating alongside famed civil rights attorney David Shanies and the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group whose mission is to clear the names of those wrongfully convicted in the American legal system.
Within the courtroom, Judge Biben acknowledged the 56-year-old mistake to Aziz and his representatives.
“I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost,” Judge Biben said in her ruling that vacated the convictions.
In response to his freedom, Aziz addressed the court, stating that the injustice that caused his conviction is due to a broken and corrupt system that perpetuates discrimination against Black people.
“Those events were and are the result of a process that was corrupt to its core, one that is all too familiar to black people in 2021. While I do not need this court, these prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am very glad that my family, my friends, and attorneys who have worked to support me all of these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known officially recognized. I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system,” Aziz asserted.
Aziz emerged from the rear of the building, flanked by family members. Despite spending several decades behind bars for an infamous crime the world now knows he did not commit, he was all smiles.
“This is my family,” were the only words he muttered through a beaming grin before being whisked into a nearby vehicle.
Meanwhile, in front of 100 Centre Street and surrounded by a legion of media cameras, Islam’s two sons, Ameen and Shadid Johnson, spoke about their gratitude who wore both sadden by the absence of their parents.
When asked if they will seek financial compensation for the strife they were put through for over the past five decades, both sons stated that it is something they will look into, but acknowledged that it will not bring their father back.
“I watched my mother carry the responsibilities by herself and the drama she went through. She struggled with sickness, she had to take care of us, and she had to worry about us, scared every time we left the house. Exoneration doesn’t take away everything,” Shadid Johnson said.