One of two men who spent decades in prison in the United States for the 1965 murder of Black civil rights advocate Malcolm X has sued New York state for at least $20m in damages, saying his imprisonment had caused “deep and lasting trauma”.
Muhammad Aziz, 83, was exonerated last month by a judge who apologised and acknowledged that the case had been a “violation of the law and the public trust”.
“While I do not dwell on what my life might have been like had this travesty of justice never occurred, the deep and lasting trauma it caused cannot be overstated,” Aziz said in a statement on Tuesday announcing the lawsuit.
“Those responsible for depriving me of my liberty and for depriving my family of a husband, a father, and a grandfather should be held accountable,” he said.
He also notified New York City that he plans to sue it for $40m unless an agreement on damages is made within 90 days.
His lawyers said they would file similar lawsuits on behalf of the family of Khalil Islam, who died in 2009 and was also exonerated last month.
Aziz was released on parole in 1985, while Islam was released in 1987.
For more than half a century, the official record held that three members of the Black nationalist group Nation of Islam, which Malcolm X had renounced not long before his death, shot the iconic leader when he arrived to speak at the podium of a Harlem ballroom.
Aziz, Islam and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, were convicted in 1966 – but historians have long cast doubt on that. Halim – now 80 and released from prison in 2010 – confessed to the murder but maintained the innocence of the other two.
In 2020, the case was reopened following the release of a Netflix docuseries, Who Killed Malcolm X?
A 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers found that prosecutors, the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that would likely have led to the two men’s acquittal.
The investigation did not identify the assassins or offer an alternative explanation for the murder.
But New York State Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben granted the exonerations of Aziz and Islam on November 18 to a burst of applause from the courtroom.
“I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost,” the judge told Aziz and the family of Khalil Islam, who were present in the court.
Born Malcolm Little in 1925, Malcolm X rose to prominence as the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that espoused Black separatism.
He spent over a decade with the group before becoming disillusioned, publicly breaking with it in 1964 and moderating some of his earlier views on racial separation. He was one of the most influential civil rights leaders of the 20th century.