The two men were cleared in 2021 after serving 20 years each for the killing.
The lawyer David Shanies, defender of Muhammad Aziz, 84, and the family of Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, confirmed in an email to AFP on Sunday evening that an “injustice (had been) recognised today and a modest step is taken to correct it.
The New York Times reported that the city’s legal department had earlier revealed a financial settlement with “Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam who were wrongfully convicted of this crime”: the murder of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965, in the Audubon Ballroom, an entertainment venue in Harlem, a neighbourhood in northern Manhattan.
The two men, members of Malcolm X’s “Nation of Islam” movement, had been sentenced in 1966 to long prison terms and had spent 42 years between them — some 20 years each — for a murder they had never committed.
– A new twist –
But on 19 November last year, in a historic judicial coup, the New York State Supreme Court cleared them.
The court had even acknowledged its “failure” in having imprisoned two innocent men for the assassination of the icon of the black cause in the 1960s in the United States.
The death of Malcolm X was a thunderclap in the painful history of African-Americans. A “tragedy (…) felt around the world and compounded by the fact that it led to the conviction and imprisonment of two innocent young black men in America,” said lawyer David Shanies.
He confirmed the New York Times figures: $26 million from the city of New York and $10 million from the state of New York.
Muhammad Aziz, released in 1985, and Khalil Islam, released in 1987 and who died in 2009 at the age of 74, have always maintained their innocence.
The third convict, Mujahid Abdul Halim, admitted at the time that he had shot Malcolm X and cleared his two co-accused, but to no avail.
Until the New York court reopened the case in 2020.
– Netflix documentary –
Indeed, it was not until the February 2020 release of a documentary on Netflix (“Who Killed Malcolm X?”) that doubts about the presence of Mr Aziz and Mr Islam at the scene of the assassination were renewed.
After months of investigation and review, the then Manhattan prosecutor, Cyrus Vance, joined forces with the two men’s lawyers and an organisation, “The Innocence Project”, which fights against miscarriages of justice, to file a motion to quash the case before the New York Supreme Court.
And last November, live on television and to great applause, prosecutor Vance apologised to the US judiciary for “decades of injustice” and “unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust”.
In court, he “recognised the seriousness of this miscarriage of justice”, without dwelling on the rumours concerning the murky role played at the time by the federal police (FBI) and the New York police.
– Malcolm X threatened –
At the time of his assassination, Malcolm X, 39, a radical figure in the African American cause, accused by his detractors of calling for violence and separatism, had left the “Nation of Islam” and made a more consensual turn.
He was then threatened by members of his former movement and his home in New York was the target of an attack a few days earlier.
The Netflix documentary is based on the thesis of a Washington lay historian, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, that Aziz and Islam were innocent and that the third convict, who admitted to the crime, acted with four other Nation of Islam members from a mosque in Newark, New Jersey, near New York.
The murder of Malcolm X had shaken the United States, which was during political and social tensions in the 1960s, marked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1968.