BROOKLYN (CN) — Muhammad A. Aziz, who was exonerated in the murder of Malcolm X, sued the United States in Brooklyn federal court Thursday.
Aziz, 85, spent more than 20 years in prison but was exonerated in 2021 after his attorneys, Shanies Law and the Innocence Project, worked with the New York County District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Program and demonstrated he was wrongfully convicted.
A companion lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of Khalil Islam, who was also convicted of the crime and died in prison in 2009.
Malcolm X was shot and killed by three assailants on Feb. 21, 1965, as he was preparing to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan. Despite a lack of evidence and conflicting witness testimonies, Aziz and Islam were arrested and convicted of first-degree murder.
According to the filing, FBI employees, including then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, hid evidence that would have proven the pair’s innocence.
In a November 2021 hearing to vacate the convictions, then-District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said that FBI employees and the New York Police Department hid records of witnesses who failed to identify Islam, and other subjects and suspects.
Vance also said Hoover and the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were FBI informants.
Aziz also says FBI informants who were present in the ballroom at the time of the murder had multiple descriptions of the shooters, including where they were seated and what they looked like, that did not match Aziz and Islam. But that information was concealed from both the NYPD and the district attorney.
Mujahid Abdul Halim, who fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol at Malcolm X, testified at trial that Aziz and Islam were not involved with the murder. Despite possessing evidence to corroborate his testimony, Aziz claims, the FBI continued to conceal information that would have proven his innocence.
After Aziz’s conviction, Halim identified his true co-conspirators and provided additional information about the murder.
“Not only did the FBI continue to hide the substantial amount of evidence it possessed, but FBI employees, including Special Agent Steven Edwards, took affirmative steps to lie to the district attorney about the evidence it possessed,” Aziz says.
In the January 2020 investigation that eventually cleared Aziz and Islam, attorneys for the pair discovered that, in addition to concealing information from FBI and NYPD informants who witnessed the murder, the FBI had information that undermined the trial testimony of prosecution witnesses and corroborated Aziz’s alibi that he was home at the time of the murder.
Both Aziz and Islam have long said they were at home with their wives at the time of the murder. Aziz was also recovering from a leg injury he received from a police beating at the time of the murder and had taken three phone calls.
"What the investigation showed was that the FBI agents did more than simply stay silent, it said they took affirmative steps to conceal this evidence," Deborah Francois, an attorney with Shanies Law, told Courthouse News.
The lawsuits, which name over a dozen bureau officials and seek $80 million in damages, claim both men made “attractive targets” because they were associated with the Nation of Islam and at home at the time of the murder, and did not have many alibi witnesses.
In addition to Hoover, the lawsuit names Steven Edwards, a special agent who was recorded falsely telling prosecutors handling Aziz’s appeal in 1977 that the FBI had no evidence supporting Halim’s account.
Aziz and Islam’s estate previously received $36 million from New York City and the state to resolve lawsuits over the roles played by the police and the Manhattan DAs office in their convictions.Follow @NikaSchoonover
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