Muhammad Aziz spent over 20 years behind bars and nearly twice as long on parole before being exonerated in the assassination of Malcolm X in New York City nearly 60 years ago.
Aziz, 85, is still trying to untangle the events surrounding his conviction and the fatal shooting at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb. 21, 1965.
Aziz, formerly known as Norman 3X Butler, last week filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn claiming that top FBI officials intentionally hid evidence of his innocence.
A similar lawsuit seeking $40 million was filed on behalf of the estate of Khalil Islam, who was convicted along with Aziz. Islam died in 2009, more than a decade before he and Aziz were exonerated.
Aziz and Islam’s estate have already claimed payouts from New York City and the state totaling $36 million. The new lawsuits seek to shed new light on the federal government’s role in the events surrounding the death of the controversial Black leader.
Aziz’s suit seeks to recover damages for his time behind bars and the enduring “burden and stigma” from his conviction in one of the nation’s most notorious assassinations — “a stain, and threat, that followed him and his family for decades,” the suit claims.
Aziz and Islam’s convictions were overturned in November 2021 following a nearly two-year reinvestigation by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. His inquiry found that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had ordered witnesses not to tell investigators they were federal informants. The probe also uncovered NYPD and FBI reports pointing to other individuals’ guilt.
“The main question at this point is whether the U.S. government will hold itself accountable or will instead continue to attempt to escape any repercussions for the FBI’s egregious conduct that ruined our clients’ lives in the most extreme way conceivable,” Deborah Francois, one of Aziz’s attorneys, told Gothamist.
Had the exculpatory evidence been revealed, Aziz would never have been charged by a grand jury or prosecuted, the suit claims. At the time of the fatal shooting, Aziz says he was at his home in the Bronx.
Earlier this year, a man who claimed he witnessed the murder spoke up for the first time about the incident, fueling long-standing claims from Malcolm X’s supporters that the government played a hand in his death.
Malcolm X’s family also filed a lawsuit in February claiming that federal, state and New York City officials conspired to kill him and then covered it up with a botched investigation.
A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.