(CNN)– Two men convicted of the 1965 murder of Malcolm X were exonerated after more than half a century, according to their lawyers.
A 22-month investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and attorneys for the men Muhammad A. Aziz and the late Khalil Islam found that evidence of his innocence, including FBI documents, was withheld during the trial.
The men were known at the time of the murder from civil rights activist Norman 3X Butler (Aziz) and Thomas 15X Johnson (Islam).
In an interview with The New York Times, that first reported the news, Vance apologized for the failure of law enforcement, saying, “This points to the truth that law enforcement throughout history has often failed to fulfill its responsibilities.”
Vance tweeted Wednesday that his office, along with the attorneys representing the men, will request that the convictions be vacated.
Aziz, 83, was released from jail in 1985; Islam came out in 1987 and died in 2009.
CNN contacted the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which announced a press conference for this Thursday.
In a statement, the Innocence Project and attorneys for Aziz and Islam said that, with Vance’s agreement, they will file a joint motion Thursday to overturn the 1966 convictions.
Malcolm X, one of the most powerful voices in the fight against racism in the nation, took the stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York on February 21, 1965. His wife Betty Shabazz and their four children were in the audience.
Shortly after, shots were fired and the icon died.
“One of the most blatant judicial errors”
The statement said that the reinvestigation “unearthed new evidence of the innocence of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, including FBI documents that had been available at the time of the trial but were withheld by both the defense and the prosecution.”
“The murder of Malcolm X was a landmark event that required scrupulous investigation and prosecution but instead produced one of the most blatant legal errors I have ever seen,” said attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project.
“Officially correcting the false historical narrative surrounding one of the most significant events in 20th century American history allows us to learn and prevent future judicial errors.”
Attorney David B. Shanies said Aziz and Islam “experienced the agony of decades in prison for a crime they did not commit. Their freedom was taken from them in the prime of their lives and branded the murderers of a prominent rights leader. civil “.
Malcolm X was an iconic and intense leader and spokesperson for the Nation of Islam who denounced white people as “blue-eyed devils.” But at the end of his life, Malcolm X changed his opinion about whites and discarded the ideology of the Nation of Islam in favor of orthodox Islam.
In doing so, he feared for his own life from within the Nation.
Malcolm X continues to be a symbol of inspiration to black men and others moved by his transformation from street hustler to historical figure who the late actor Ossie Davis praised as “our own brilliant black prince.”
The murder followed a public dispute between Malcolm X and the founder of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X had accused Muhammad of infidelity and left the Nation in March 1964.
One of the convicts claims to have heard of the murder on the radio
Three men were convicted in 1966. Mujahid Abdul Halim (known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Aziz and Islam were sentenced to life imprisonment. For years, Aziz and Islam said they were innocent. Halim said he had participated in the murder, but claimed the innocence of the other two men.
Aziz is still trying to clear his name, according to the Innocence Project. He has carried the stigma of conviction for more than 50 years.
Halim tried to absolve Aziz and Islam of the murder when he took the stand during the trial on February 28, 1966, The New York Times reported.
“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 the people who were there,” Halim said.
According to the Innocence Project, there was no physical evidence linking Aziz or Islam to the murder of one of the most important African-American figures of the 20th century.
Aziz also had an alibi, saying he was at home tending to his injured leg.
“On the day of the murder, which was a Sunday morning, I was lying on the couch with my foot up and I heard it on the radio,” recalls Aziz in the Netflix documentary series “Who Killed Malcolm X?”, According to Innocence Project.
Vance’s 2020 review of the case came after the Netflix documentary raised a number of new questions.
The district attorney’s office announced the review and said it had been working with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit project, which seeks to exonerate those wrongly convicted.
Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz then said in a statement that she hoped the investigation “will bring clarity and transparency regarding this devastating criminal act against my family and all the devoted followers of dear Malcolm.”
“My father lived his life defending and pursuing the truth,” he said. “He deserves the same dedication to the truth from all of us.”
The murder of Malcolm X has been the subject of much debate and has spawned conspiracy theories implicating the Nation of Islam and others. The Nation of Islam has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of Malcolm X.
– CNN’s Ganesh Setty, Christina Zdanowicz, John Blake and Wayne Drash contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism