By Frederick H. Lowe, BlackmansStreet.Today
Cyrus Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, has agreed to review the conviction of Muhammad Abdul Aziz, who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Malcolm X although no physical evidence linked Aziz to the assassination.
The Innocence Project, which is based in New York City, is working with the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit and Civil Rights Attorney David B. Shanies to re-investigate Aziz’s 1966 conviction.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office decided to re-investigate the assassination following the broadcast of the seven-part Netflix documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X” by historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad and others.
The documentary covers much of what has already been written in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” by Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The documentary also examines in detail the split between Malcolm X and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, head of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam.
It is augmented with black and white photographs. In addition, there are black and white and color news clips of Malcolm X, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad speaking about their growing difficulties with each other that led to Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam. The documentary also interviewed current and former members of the Nation of Islam and close associates of Malcolm X.
The split and Malcolm’s death accomplished what J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, and the New York City police and some members of the Nation of Islam wanted because they feared and were envious of Malcolm X’s oratorical skills and his organizing ability, according to the documentary.
The documentary opens with Malcolm X’s very public assassination in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom before a large audience of supporters.
Malcolm X is carried from the Audubon Ballroom where he was fatally shot.
Moments after Malcolm X took the stage at 3:30 p.m. on February 21, 1965, a team of five gunmen began shooting, terrifying the men and women who scrambled for cover knocking over chairs in the ballroom to escape.
New York City police quickly arrested Azziz (then known as Norman 3X Butler), Mujahid Abul Halim (then known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan) and Khalil Islam(then known as Thomas 15X Johnson) for the murder.
Halim admitted to participating in the assassination. Malcolm X’s bodyguards shot him in the leg, captured and beat him in the Audubon until police rescued him.
He has always said Aziz and Islam had nothing to do with the killing. Islam died in 2009. Aziz who is 81 is still trying to clear his name. A former member of the U.S. Navy, he was paroled in 1985.
“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.
At the time of Malcolm X’s murder, Aziz was a patient in a nursing home where he was being treated for recent leg injuries. A physician who treated testified in Aziz’s defense.
“We are grateful that District Attorney Vance quickly agreed to conduct a review of the conviction of Muhammad Aziz. Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, we are especially encouraged that Mr. Vance has assigned two highly respected prosecutors, Peter Casolaro and Charles King to work on this re-investigation,” Innocence Project and David B. Shanies Shanies Law Office, said in a joint statement.
Halim initially refused to name the other gunmen.
In 1978, Halim changed his mind and named the other four gunmen to lawyer William Kunstler, who provided the names and addresses of the killers and laid out a detailed timeline of the assassination plot. The gunmen were members of the Newark, New Jersey, Nation of Islam mosque, according to the documentary.
Kunstler obtained previously undisclosed FBI documents through the Freedom of Information Act that supported Halim’s account. Judge Harold Rothwax rejected Kunstler’s motion to vacate the convictions of Aziz and Islam.
Aziz said he was laying on the couch with his foot up listening to the radio when he heard Malcolm X had been assassinated.