The story of one of the most momentous crimes of the American 20th century, the assassination of African-American leader Malcolm X in 1965, has just taken a 180-degree turn. Two of the three men convicted in the case, who spent decades in prison, will be exonerated Thursday after a nearly two-year investigation triggered by a Netflix documentary series that addressed loopholes in the verdict. Historians and academics always warned of the mistake that justice had made, but Cyrus R. Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, commissioned the review in 2020 after knowing the details that emerged about the alibis of the now exonerated.
They are Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, whose names were Norman Butler at the time, and Thomas Johnson. Aziz, now 83, was released in 1985, while Islam was released in 1987 and passed away in 2009. Both always defended their innocence. The third convict, Talmadge Hayer, had admitted his guilt in the death, but had declared that the other two were not part of the plot.
On February 21, 1965, as Malcolm X was preparing to give a speech at the Auduborn Ballroom in New York, three men shot and killed him. The doubts about the criminal process illuminated all kinds of alternative theories to crime, if it was all part of a conspiracy of the Government, in the heat of the fight for civil rights in the United States, or of devotees of the Nation of Islam, while the innocents paid for it.
In an interview with The New York Times, which advanced the news, Vance apologized on behalf of the security forces. “What we can do is recognize the error, the severity of the error,” he said. “This points to the truth that law enforcement has often failed in its responsibilities,” he added.
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