Man, 83, recently exonerated for murder of Malcolm X sues NY for $20M

Man, 83, exonerated for murder of Malcolm X last month is suing New York state for $20M for ‘serious miscarriages of justice’ that saw him spend 20 years in prison

  • Muhammad Aziz is suing the state for a ‘serious miscarriages of justice’ 
  • He spent 20 years in prison, from ages 26 to 46, until he was released in 1985
  • Last month, a Manhattan judge threw out his conviction based on an investigation that found the FBI and NYPD withheld evidence in the case 
  • Another man, Khalil Islam – who died in 2009 – was also exonerated
  • His lawyers plan a $40M suit against the city if a state settlement isn’t reached

A man who spent 20 years behind bars for the murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X is suing New York state for $20 million after a judge exonerated him last month.

The convictions of Muhammad Aziz, 83, and another man were vacated in November after a review by the Manhattan district attorney found that they didn’t get a fair trial because authorities withheld key evidence from the defense and prosecution.

Aziz is now suing the state for the ‘serious miscarriages of justice’ that led to his conviction. He was 26 years old when he was arrested in 1965 and 46 when he was released in 1985.  

‘The more than 20 years that I spent in prison were stolen from me and my family, and while the official record now recognizes the truth that has been known for decades, nothing can undo the damage that my wrongful conviction caused to all of us,’ Aziz said in a statement provided by his lawyers.

Muhammad Aziz, 83, detailed the physical and mental anguish he suffered during his 20 years in maximum security prisons for the murder of Malcolm X in a lawsuit against the state

Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler, was 26 when he was arrested and 46 when he was released in 1985

A review by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance and Aziz’s lawyers found evidence that Aziz wasn’t involved in the killing and that the FBI and NYPD withheld evidence

Aziz’s lawyer told New York City that he intends to file a $40 million civil rights lawsuit against the city in 90 days if a deal with the state isn’t struck, according to the New York Times. 

Aziz and Khalil Islam, who was released in 1987 and died in 2009, were both exonerated in November.  

Manhattan judge Ellen Biben dismissed their convictions after prosecutors and the men’s lawyers found new evidence that Aziz and Islam were not involved with the killing and that the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld some of what they knew.

Moreover, Mujahid Halim, who was also convicted in Malcolm X’s murder but sentenced to life in prison, testified at a trial that ‘neither of them had any involvement with the murder of Malcolm X,’ according to Aziz’s lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday. 

The investigation into the convictions was launched by Cy Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, following the broadcast of a six-part Netflix documentary last year that sparked renewed focus on the case.

Vance, 66, apologized to Aziz in court last month and shook his hand. 

FBI files showed that the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to tell witnesses not to reveal that they were informants when talking with police and prosecutors.


Three men were arrested and convicted; Muhammad Aziz (left) Khalil Islam, also known as Thomas 15X Johnson (right in 1965) and Thomas Hagan, who later changed his name to Talmadge Hayer and then Mujahid Halim

Malcolm Little, known as Malcolm X, was a prominent civil rights leader in the 1960s

He was shot at the at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights in February 1965. Above, New York policeman carry him out in a stretcher 

Talmadge Hayer, also known as Mujahid Halim, had previously testified that Aziz and another man convicted in the killing, Khalil Islam, had nothing to do with it

‘Many of those documents were exculpatory. None of them were disclosed to the defense,’ Vance told the court on Thursday.

‘Without these files, it is clear these men did not receive a fair trial, and their convictions must be vacated.’

In the lawsuit against the state, Aziz’s lawyers detailed the physical, emotional and mental distress and other damages he faced during his 20-year stay in maximum security prisons throughout New York.

‘As a result of his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Mr. Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history,’ the lawsuit states, according to CNN.

Hayer was paroled in 2010. His conviction stands 

Aziz was the father to six young children at the time he was arrested, and his wife left him while he was in prison. 

While incarcerated, he became an imam and impressed guards with his leadership abilities, once mediating a strike by detainees at Attica in the late 1970s and making sure that ‘the demonstration was brought to a peaceful conclusion without violence,’ according to a 1981 letter sent by a former commissioner of correctional services, Benjamin Ward, to New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey.

Four days after Aziz and Islam were exonerated, Malcolm X’s daughter Malikah Shabazz was found dead in her Midwood, Brooklyn.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Shabazz ‘had been sick for some time’ with an unspecified illness. 

Malikah never met her famous father. Her mother, Betty, was pregnant with her and her twin sister when Malcolm took the stage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights in 1965, where he was shot dead.

‘The assassination of Malcolm X was a historic event that demanded a scrupulous investigation and prosecution but, instead, produced one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice that I have ever seen,’  said attorney Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, which represented Aziz and Islam.

At his exoneration in November, Aziz told the court: ‘The events that led to my exoneration should never have occurred. I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system’


Malcolm X’s daughter, Malikah Shabazz. died four days after Aziz and Islam were exonerated. She is pictured in 2011, left, after pleading guilty to stealing the identity of an elderly family friend in North Carolina. She ran up more than $55,000 in credit card charges

‘Officially correcting the false historical narrative around one of the most significant events in 20th century US history allows us to learn from and prevent future miscarriages of justice.’

In November, Aziz told the court: ‘The events that led to my exoneration should never have occurred.

‘I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system.’

He and Islam, who maintained their innocence from the start in the 1965 killing at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, were paroled in the 1980s. Islam died in 2009, aged 74.

‘While I do not need a court, prosecutors, or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent, I am glad that my family, my friends, and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known, officially recognized,’ Aziz said in a statement released by his attorney.

In 2014, New York City paid out $41 million in a settlement against the Central Park Five, a group of five teenagers who were wrongly convicted in the 1989 beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park.

The agreement maintained that the city did nothing wrong.

Malcolm X’s family released late cop’s ‘deathbed’ letter that claimed FBI and police conspired in the civil rights leader’s 1965 assassination 

Exactly 56 years since Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City, lawyers and family members of the late civil rights leader released a letter they claim shows the NYPD and FBI conspired in his murder.  

The note, said to be a deathbed confession made by Ray Wood, a former undercover NYPD officer, was unveiled in a press conference by civil rights attorney Ben Crump in February.

Wood claimed in his letter that the FBI and the NYPD conspired to kill Malcolm X, who was gunned down on February 21, 1965 inside Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom during a rally.

He alleged that he was pressured by his NYPD supervisors to lure two members of Malcolm X’s security detail into committing crimes that resulted in their arrest just days before the shooting.

Those arrests kept the two men from managing door security at the ballroom on the night Malcolm was killed, according to the letter.

‘My job was to infiltrate civil rights organizations throughout New York City, to find evidence of criminal activity, so the FBI could discredit and arrest its leaders,’ Wood stated in the letter.

‘Under the direction of my handlers I was told to encourage leaders and members of civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.’


Exactly 56 years since Malcolm X (right) was assassinated in New York City, lawyers and family members of the late civil rights leader have released a letter they claim shows the NYPD and FBI conspired in his murder. (Pictured left is Reggie Wood, Ray Wood’s cousin)

During Saturday’s conference Wood’s cousin, Reggie Wood, said he confessed to his involvement in 2011 when he believed a worsening cancer would take his life. He ultimately went into remission and lived until November 2020

In his later, dated January 25, 2011, the former officer claimed his actions were done under duress and fear of retaliation.

‘After witnessing repeated brutality at the hands of my colleagues (police), I tried to resign. Instead, I was threatened with arrest by pinning marijuana and alcohol trafficking charges on me if I did not follow through with the assignments.’

On February 16, 1965 Wood claims he coerced members of Malcolm X’s security detail into plan a bombing at the Statue of Liberty.

The plan was then foiled by police and the two men were ‘arrested just days before the assassination of Malcolm. At the time I was not aware that Malcolm X was the target,’ Wood wrote.

Wood signed the letter and instructed his cousin to hold the information until after his passing.

‘It is my hope that this information is received with the understanding that I have carried these secrets with a heavy heart and remorsefully regret my participation in this matter.’

During Saturday’s conference Wood’s cousin, Reggie Wood, said he confessed to his involvement in 2011 when he believed a worsening cancer would take his life. He ultimately went into remission and lived until November 2020.

‘For 10 years, I have carried this confession secretly in fear of what could happen to my family and myself if the government found out what I knew,’ Reggie Wood said.

Now Malcolm X’s three daughters – Qubiliah, Ilyasah, and Gamilah Shabazz – joined civil rights attorney Ben Crump demanding for the murder investigation to be re-opened in light of the ‘new evidence’ shared Saturday.

‘Any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated,’ said Ilyasah Shabazz.

Malcolm X was shot seconds after stepping to a lectern to speak inside the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965

Two policemen carry stretcher bearing Malcom X after he was downed by an assassin’s bullets at a rally

An autopsy later revealed that he had suffered a total of 21 gunshot wounds to his chest, arms and legs

In his later, dated January 25, 2011, the former officer claimed his actions were done under duress and fear of retaliations

Attorney Ray Hamlin added: ‘So, what we’re trying to do is talk about restorative justice is as lawyers – try to pursue relentless justice.

‘On behalf of the legacy of Malcolm X, Dr. Betty Shabazz, on behalf of his family his lineage who is here.’

Three Nation of Islam members, Mujahid Abdul Halim (also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Muhammad Abdul Aziz (also known as Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (also known as Thomas 15X Johnson), were convicted of Malcolm X’s murder in 1966 and sentenced to life in prison.

While Halim admitted to taking part in the assassination, he insisted that Aziz and Islam were not involved. And the two maintained their innocence throughout the years.

Islam died in 2009 and Halim and Aziz have since been paroled.

Last year the Manhattan DA began a review of their Islam and Aziz’s convictions after meeting with representatives of the Innocence Project.

Now, with the new evidence, the DA’s office says ‘the review of this matter is active and ongoing.’

The NYPD said in a separate statement it has ‘provided all available records relevant to that case to the District Attorney’ and ‘remains committed to assist with that review in any way.’

The FBI declined to comment on the matter.



Three Nation of Islam members (left to right), Mujahid Abdul Halim (also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), Muhammad Abdul Aziz (also known as Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (also known as Thomas 15X Johnson), were convicted of Malcolm X’s murder in 1966 and sentenced to life in prison

‘For 10 years, I have carried this confession secretly in fear of what could happen to my family and myself if the government found out what I knew,’ Reggie Wood said

Malcolm X was a powerful orator who rose to prominence as the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that espoused Black separatism.

He spent more than a decade with the group before becoming disillusioned and publicly breaking with it in 1964. He moderated some of his earlier views on the benefits of racial separation.

Malcolm X was shot seconds after stepping to a lectern to speak inside the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965.

Seconds before, a man had stood up and yelled, ‘N***** get your hand out of my pocket!’

As Malcolm X and his entourage attempted to quell the disturbance, a man rushed forward towards the stage and shot him once in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun, and two other men then opened fire with semi-automatic handguns.

The civil rights activist was rushed to Columbia Presbyterian where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival, at 3:30pm.

An autopsy later revealed that he had suffered a total of 21 gunshot wounds to his chest, arms and legs.

Thomas Hagan, 22, struggles with police who take him from the scene outside the ballroom where Malcolm X was shot and killed

‘Any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated,’ said Ilyasah Shabazz

Days earlier, Malcolm X had ominously told a reporter that he believed members of the Nation of Islam were seeking to kill him.

He was being surveilled by the FBI at the time. His home in Queens was firebombed the week before his death. 

Almost immediately after his death, conspiracies of police involvement in the assassination began to circulate.

Many of the theories centered on the ease in which the assassins were able to enter the ballroom, and the police’s perceived failure to preserve the crime scene.

One of the officers involved, Tony Bouza, would later write in his 2011 book ‘Manny Marable’s Malcolm X’ that the ‘investigation was botched.’

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