New York settles $36 million lawsuit on behalf of men once accused of Malcolm X assassination: Three men spent decades in prison for 1965 killing they were exonerated for last year

  • Muhammad Aziz, 83, and the late Khalil Islam, spent decades in prison for the crime, after being found guilty for the killing in 1966 
  • The decision follows a 22-month investigation into the mishandling of proceedings following the 1965 assassination of the civil rights leader 
  • Malcolm X was gunned down as he began a speech in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 
  • The two men were then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson
  •  Aziz was released in 1985 – Islam was released two years later, and died in 2009
  • The judgment will see the pair and their families awarded a collective $36million

New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of two of the three men convicted of assassinating renowned civil rights leader Malcolm X, after their exoneration last year.

The judgment will see 83-year-old Muhammad Aziz and the family of the late Khalil Islam, who died in 2018, awarded a collective $36million, after the pair both spent decades in prison for their supposed part in the 1965 killing. 

Following a nearly two-year investigation by their lawyers and the Manhattan DA, both men were exonerated in November – after a series of doubts by historians and legal experts over inconsistencies in the case saw their conviction overturned.

To make good on the monumental slight, New York officials have now agreed to pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions, with the state set to fork over an additional $10 million.

The decision to make good on the wrongful convictions comes after a 22-month investigation into allegations that prosecutors, the FBI, and New York Police withheld crucial evidence in the case that would have acquitted the pair.

Both men maintained their innocence for the entirety of their incarcerations – which amounted to a combined 42 years. Islam attested that he had no role in the assassination at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights until his dying day, an assertion shared by a now elderly Aziz.

The third man arrested for the killing, Thomas Hagan – the only of the three to confess to the crime – long insisted Aziz and Islam were not guilty: a sentiment he maintained when he took the stand in 1966 to plead guilty to his part in the killing. 

David Shanies, an attorney representing both the exonerated men, confirmed the bombshell settlements Sunday in an emailed statement.


THEN: Muhammad Aziz, pictured at left being escorted by detectives after his arrest in New York in 1965, and alleged accomplice Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. The city of New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of the two men after they were found to be falsely convicted of assassinating the renowned civil rights leader in Manhattan in 1965

Malcolm X was gunned down as he began a speech in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965


The judgment will see 83-year-old Aziz and the family of the late Khalil Islam (pictured in 2009), who died in 2018, awarded a collective $36million, after the pair both spent 42 years in prison following what historians and legal experts determined was an erroneous conviction

 ‘Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered because of these unjust convictions for more than 50 years,’ said Shanies said in an email. 

‘The City recognized the grave injustices done here, and I commend the sincerity and speed with which the Comptroller´s Office and the Corporation Counsel moved to resolve the lawsuits.’

Shanies said the settlements send a message that ‘police and prosecutorial misconduct cause tremendous damage, and we must remain vigilant to identify and correct injustices.’

Last year, a Manhattan judge dismissed the convictions of Aziz, now 84, and Islam, who died in 2009, after prosecutors said new evidence of witness intimidation and suppression of exculpatory evidence had undermined the case against the men. 

Then-District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. apologized for law enforcement´s ‘serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust.’

The New York City Law Department, through a spokesperson, said Sunday it ‘stands by’ Vance’s opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted and the financial agreement ‘brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.’

Shanies said over the next few weeks the settlement documents will be signed and the New York court that handles probate matters will have to approve the settlement for Islam’s estate. 

The total $36 million will be divided equally between Aziz and the estate of Islam.

Aziz and Islam, who maintained their innocence from the start in the 1965 killing at Upper Manhattan´s Audubon Ballroom, were paroled in the 1980s.

Malcolm X gained national prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam, exhorting Black people to claim their civil rights ‘by any means necessary.’ His autobiography, written with Alex Haley, remains a classic work of modern American literature.

Near the end of Malcolm X´s life, he split with the Black Muslim organization and, after a trip to Mecca, started speaking about the potential for racial unity. It earned him the ire of some in the Nation of Islam, who saw him as a traitor.

He was shot to death while beginning a speech Feb. 21, 1965. He was 39.

The third man arrested for the killing, Thomas Hagan, now 80 and out of jail, was the only one of the three to confess to the crime, and long insisted that Aziz and Islam were not guilty – first attesting to that sentiment when he took the stand for a second time during the 1966 trial

Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, and a third man were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life in prison.

The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim – also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan – admitted to shooting Malcolm X but said neither Aziz nor Islam was involved. 

The two offered alibis, and no physical evidence linked them to the crime. The case hinged on eyewitnesses, although there were inconsistencies in their testimony.

Attorneys for Aziz and Islam said in complaints that both Aziz and Islam were at their homes in the Bronx when Malcolm X was killed. They said Aziz spent 20 years in prison 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.

Islam spent 22 years in prison and died still hoping to clear his name.

Hagan, meanwhile, now 81 and once a member of the Nation of Islam along with the exonerated pair, told investigators Malcolm X was targeted because of his 1964 split with the leadership of the political organization, for which he had once served as lead spokesman – and that Aziz and Islam played no part in the conspiracy.

Hagan was freed from a prison in April of 2010 at the age of 69, after serving 45 years of his life sentence. 

Malcolm X speaks to reporters in Washington on May 16, 1963. New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of two men who were exonerated in 2021 for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, agreeing to pay $36million for the wrongful convictions which led to both men spending decades behind bars, according to attorneys for the men Sunday

A divisive figure during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Malcom X was renowned for his fierce, repeated attempts to empower the African-American community, through firebrand speeches and strong statements urging black men and women across the globe to unite against what he called white oppression.

A minister and leading figure for the Nation of Islam during the first half of the decade, he was considered a great orator and a fierce advocate of black nationalism – but his decision to leave the Nation in 1964 jilted many who had previously rallied behind the impassioned activist.

With that said, the influential figure also had enemies on the other end of the racial and political spectrum, due to a long track record of contentious comments slamming the US government, religion, law enforcement, and white people in general.

Speculation about the assassination and whether it was conceived or aided by the Nation – or law enforcement agencies – have persisted for decades after the shooting, with Malcolm X receiving a slew of threats the year prior to his assassination, after he publicly renounced the organization that he served for a dozen years after a trip to Africa.

Historians and legal experts have long raised questions concerning the convictions, with many citing that the three Black Muslim men had been hastily arrested and tried on tenuous evidence.

However, interest in the case skyrocketed early last year, after Netflix released of a six-part documentary chronicling the assassination, its buildup, and aftermath, titled, ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’ 

The six-part miniseries, released in February 2020, compiled and conveyed a slew of evidence in the case attesting the two men’s innocence – and others’ guilt, and garnered a huge response from millions of viewers.

What’s more, the series’ release and thought-provoking content spurred Vance to take up the already closed case, announcing his plans to reopen a probe that month.

In an interview with the Times, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. apologized on behalf of those involved in convicting the two Black Muslim men and said key missteps occurred in the 1966 trial, leading to the pair being found guilty

The public’s fascination with the case’s questionable convictions was further compounded earlier this year, in February, after the civil rights leader’s family released a letter penned by late African-American cop Ray Wood, who stationed in the Harlem ballroom during the assassination.

Wood died in 2011, and confessed that he, the NYPD, and the federal government arranged for Malcolm X not to be adequately protected during his speech. 

He also confessed to helping frame Islam, in particular. 

Vance’s reopening of the case, however, started well before the surge of renewed interest in the 55-year-old initial investigation, nearly two years ago.

The Manhattan DA oversaw the lengthy probe alongside the Innocence Project – nonprofit legal organization that is committed to exonerating individuals who have been wrongly convicted – and civil rights lawyer David Shanies, with the team reportedly uncovering enough evidence to exonerate the two men.

According to Vance, the reinvestigation process managed to stand up an alibi given to police by Aziz after his 1965 arrest.

What’s more, the group’s findings reportedly also implicated other suspects aside from Aziz and Islam, and further revealed that prosecutors hid the fact that undercover police were discreetly stationed throughout the Harlem concert hall when Malcolm X was shot multiple times by three men, one toting a shotgun and the other two brandishing pistols, as the activist was starting to speak – bolstering Wood’s deathbed claim.

The civil rights activist, one of the most influential black men in the modern era, was shot at least 15 times in front of his pregnant wife and three of his daughters during the chaos – with a blast from the shotgun proving to be the fatal blow.

After the assassination, Hagan, then known by name bestowed upon him by The Nation of Islam, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was the first to be apprehended, taken down by cops in the ballroom after being shot in the thigh. 

Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler, was cuffed five days later, and Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson, five days after that. 

Within a week, the three men, all members of the Nation, had been charged with first-degree murder. 

At the subsequent trial in 1966, prosecutors labeled Islam, once Malcolm X’s personal chauffeur, as the gunman who fired the fatal shotgun blast.  

Aziz and Hagan were said to have been the pair providing cover fire with the pistols. 

Ten eyewitnesses said they had seen Islam or Aziz – with multiple fingering both.

However, the witness statements were found to contradict one another, and no physical evidence tied Aziz or Islam to the murder or the scene of the crime. 

What’s more, both men provided air-tight alibis, which were attested by testimony from their spouses and friends.

And, as mentioned, Hagan repeatedly told investigators and jurists that the pair had nothing to do with the murder.

What’s more, one defense witness present at the ballroom during Malcolm X’s assassination, Ernest Greene, testified that he had seen the man with the shotgun, and offered the court a description vastly different from Islam, the one labeled by prosecutors to have used the high-powered weapon.

Greene described the shooter as dark-skinned, stocky, and sporting a ‘deep’ beard – a stark contrast from Islam, who was light-skinned, lean, and clean-shaven – sans a small moustache.  

However, Greene’s description did match someone who knew the civil rights leader, and someone jurors were not made aware of during the case’s proceedings: William Bradley, a known enforcer for the Nation of Islam – a man that Hagan told police was part of the assassination plot.

Greene was less than six feet tall, had a hefty build and was dark-skinned.

Malcolm X was targeted because of his 1964 split with the leadership of the political organization, the only suspect to confess to taking part in his assassination, said

Furthermore, a description of Bradley was in FBI files at the time of the case, as authorities were already aware that the Nation was targeting Malcolm X, due to a firebomb attack on his home in Queens – while the civil rights leader was asleep inside along with his wife and children – the week before the assassination. 

Previously a machine-gunner in the Marine Corps, Greene also boasted rich criminal history which included a charge for possessing an illegal weapon.

During their investigation, Vance’s team, in conjunction with Islam’s and Aziz’s lawyers, examined evidence that had long been laid out and pored over publicly, including the FBI file on Bradley – who died in 2018.

The bureau’s information on Bradley contained a report stating that no one communicated to officials in New York that Bradley had been a suspect, and also included an informant’s secondhand account that the ex-Marine gunner was the shotgun assassin.

Vance’s team also interviewed a new witness in the case during the exhaustive probe, and reviewed a treasure trove of records – including public statements, court transcripts, prosecutors’ files; and reports penned during the initial investigation, grand jury proceedings, the trial and post-conviction appeals.

And while all three of the suspected assassins were members of the Nation of Islam, prosecutors failed to find any evidence that connected Hagan, who attended a Nation-owned mosque in Newark and told investigators that his co-conspirators were also from New Jersey, and Aziz and Islam, who resided in Manhattan and attended a Nation-run mosque in Harlem. 

Additionally, several witnesses for the defense at the time stated that both Aziz and Islam were home and accounted for when the civil rights leader was set to make his speech. 

However, a key piece to unraveling the 56-year mystery came in the form of a new witness, a man formerly employed by the Nation of Islam who only came forward after a screening of the Netflix documentary last year, offering an account that seemed to stand up Aziz’s alibi, that he had been home nursing an injury. 

The witness, identified only as J.M. in the DA’s probe, told Vance’s team that he was handling the phone at the Nation’s Harlem mosque the day Malcolm X was killed when Aziz called and asked for the mosque’s captain. 

Aziz allegedly hung up while J.M. went looking for the captain, with then J.M. calling Aziz back at home – with Aziz picking up.

But one of the most significant chinks in the government’s case, the review discerned, was Hagan’s ignored confessions that his co-defendants were innocent. 

Nonetheless, on March 11, 1966, all three defendants were found guilty and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.  

Aziz was released on parole in 1985, while Islam was released two years later, in 1987.

He died in 2009.

The civil rights leader, then 39, had been targeted by the Nation the week before his assassination, in an attack that saw members of the political organization firebomb his Queens home. Moreover, n the year leading up to the assassination, he received a slew of death threats

In prison, both men changed their names and converted to a more mainstream, less radicalized form of Islam, with Islam deciding to reject the teachings of the Nation altogether.  

Aziz, on the other hand, was able to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in religious studies while incarcerated, and worked as chief of security for a Harlem mosque upon his release.

He has since retired and currently lives in New York.

Malcolm X’s family releases late cop’s ‘deathbed’ letter that claims 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 have 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 on Saturday.

Wood claims 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.’

The three men accused of murdering Malcolm X – one who admitted to the crime served 45 years of a life prison sentence while the other two, who have maintained innocence, are set to have their convictions thrown out 

Three Nation of Islam followers were convicted of murdering civil rights leader Malcom X in 1965 and nearly five decades later one man who admitted to the crime is free from prison after serving 45 years of his life sentence while the other two, who have maintained their innocence, are set to have their convictions thrown out on Thursday.

Thomas Hagan, admitted to the assassination 

Thomas Hagan,v

Thomas Hagan, 80, was the only man to confess to shooting dead Malcolm X inside Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 as he began a speech.

He was caught – and rescued – by police after bystanders in the ballroom captured Hagan, beat him and shot him in the leg following his fatal gunshots. 

Hagan and four other assassins, who were never convicted, planned to gun down Malcom X, according to a 2008 affidavit. One man pickpocketed attendees as a distraction while another shot Malcolm X in the chest.

Hagan, who then went by the name Talmadge X Hayer, then fired several shots into the infamous leader’s dying body after he collapsed on the stage. 

His chosen Islamic name is Mujahid Abdul Hamlin. 

The court filing explained that Hagan ‘acted out of rage’ over Malcolm X’s split from the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist, religious and political organization founded in the US in 1930. 

Hagan claimed he was young and acted impulsively due to his loyalties to Nation of Islam’s leader Elijah Muhammad, who thought Malcolm X was a ‘hypocrite’ for splitting from the cult-like group despite being the organization’s chief spokesman.

Malcolm X had reportedly broke from the Nation of Islam after accusing Muhammad of adultery and not doing enough for civil rights. 

He told The New York Post that in 2008 he lived in Manhattan’s Sunset Park, worked at a fast-food restaurant and spent his free time with his wife and kids and told the news site that although he still practiced Muslim, he left the Nation of Islam. 

He was 39 years old when he was condemned to life in prison on charges for second-degree murder. However, he only served 23 years behind bars and the following 22 in a work-release program.

While in prison he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree and his work-related program gave him jobs at the Crown Heights Youth Collective as as a counselor at a homeless shelter on Ward’s Island, according to The Post. 

The first year into his work-related program Hagan also fathered a child. 

Throughout Hagan’s time in prison – and into his life as a free man – he has consistently denied that the other two men arrested for the crime are guilty. 

Muhammad A Aziz, on parole since the 80s

Muhammad A Aziz, 83, is still in prison for assassinating Malcolm X.

Muhammad A Aziz, 30 at the time of the crime and now 83

Then a 30-year-old known as Norman Butler, Aziz was a lieutenant in the Nation of Islam’s military and worked at the Harlem mosque Malcolm X headed before parting ways from the sect’s leader.

The now-elderly Aziz is still maintaining his innocence. On February 21, 1965 he was a Navy veteran and former convict out on parole after beating and shooting Benjamin Brown, who set up a mosque in the Bronx. 

While behind bars Aziz graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies and went on to work as the chief of security for a Harlem mosque while out on parole. 

Khalil Islam, died in 2009 while on parole 

Khalil Islam – then Thomas Johnson – died in 2009 at the age of 74.

Islam attested that he had no role in the assassination at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on February 21, 1965, until his dying day, and a now elderly Aziz still standing by that same sentiment.  

Khalil Islam, 26 at the time of the crime and died in 2009 aged 74

Islam was also on parole with Aziz on that day in 1965 for shooting Brown.

According to The New York Times those charges were later dropped but their criminal history led officers to arrest the duo just days after Malcom X was assassinated.

Then-26-year-old Islam was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Islam had been Malcolm X’s personal driver.

Both Aziz and Islam were paroled in the 80s.  

In the late 1970s Hagan signed an affidavit identifying what he claimed to be his true co-conspirators – four men from New Jersey – but a judge dismissed the court filing and upheld Aziz and Islam’s convictions. 

While in prison Islam converted to a mainstream form of the Muslim religion and rejected the Nation of Islam entirely, as reported by The Times. 

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