New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – Two men found guilty in the 1965 Audubon Ballroom assassination of Malcolm X were cleared after a lengthy new investigation, with prosecutors set to toss their wrongful convictions at a Thursday hearing, sources told the Daily News.

The stunning announcement followed a 22-month probe by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. and attorneys representing the men found guilty and then imprisoned in a long-controversial slaying stretching across parts of six decades.

The revelation of the two men’s innocence raised more questions than it answered, most prominently involving the roles of the NYPD, FBI and Manhattan prosecutors in the miscarriage of justice against the pair.

Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X speaks to the press in New York as Muslims picketed through the Times Square area.
Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X speaks to the press in New York as Muslims picketed through the Times Square area –Marty Lederhandler/AP

All three agencies were exposed for withholding key exculpatory evidence against defendants Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The evidence would have likely led to an acquittal, rather than life sentences, in their 1966 trial.

“The assassination of Malcolm X was a historic event that demanded a scrupulous investigation and prosecution, but instead produced one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice that I have ever seen,” said attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Fellow Innocence Project lawyer Vanessa Potkin cited the “recently unearthed evidence of Mr Aziz and Mr Islam’s innocence that had been hidden by the NYPD and FBI” and called for additional investigation into exactly how the pair were railroaded.

How the Daily News reported the story on February 22, 1965.
How the Daily News reported the story on February 22, 1965. (Daily News)

The official word on the case was expected to come Thursday at a news conference with Vance, with a massive media turnout expected in the long-overdue exonerations.

According to the Times, the FBI, prosecutors and the NYPD were involved in the sketchy investigation of a murder that reverberates 56 years after Malcolm was shot 16 times and killed in front of his pregnant wife and three of his daughters.

“The NYPD cooperated fully with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office’s recent review of the investigation and prosecution,” according to a department spokeswoman.

Muhammad A. Aziz, who previously went by the name Norman 3X Butler, is escorted by detectives at police headquarters at 240 Centre St. after his arrest on Feb. 26, 1965.
Muhammad A. Aziz, who previously went by the name Norman 3X Butler, is escorted by detectives at police headquarters at 240 Centre St. after his arrest on Feb 26, 1965 – AP

Prosecutors did not identify any possible new suspects in the killing, which occurred as Malcolm stood to address a crowd inside the ballroom, the Times said. But doubts were raised over the years about the convictions of the two soon-to-be-cleared men, Aziz and Islam, known respectively at the time as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.

The fiery Muslim leader was blasted by three shooters on Feb, 21, 1965. One of the killers unloaded on their target with a shotgun as a crowd of 400 watched in horror on a Sunday afternoon, with the 39-year-old pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Aziz was arrested five days after the shooting, with Malcolm’s former driver Islam taken into custody five days later. The two were convicted on March 11, 1966, and sentenced to life behind bars.

Khalil Islam, aka Thomas 15X Johnson, center, is booked as the third suspect in the slaying of Malcolm X on March 3, 1965.
Khalil Islam, aka Thomas 15X Johnson, center, is booked as the third suspect in the slaying of Malcolm X on March 3, 1965 – AP

Across the decades, an assortment of books and a documentary suggested the assassination was the work of everyone from the Nation of Islam to the FBI or another government organization.