Man exonerated in the killing of Malcolm X files lawsuit against US government accusing FBI of hiding proof of his innocence

A man who was wrongfully convicted in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X and exonerated in 2021 has filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging the FBI concealed evidence that would have proved his innocence at the time of the trial.

Muhammad Aziz, one of three men convicted in 1966 of first-degree murder in Malcolm X’s killing, filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking $40 million in compensation for the “immense and irreparable” damage allegedly caused by US government employees affiliated with the FBI, according to the lawsuit.

Aziz spent more than 20 years in prison and was released in 1985. He and Khalil Islam, who was also convicted in the killing, were exonerated in 2021 – more than a half-century after their wrongful convictions. Islam died in 2009.

“This is the last chapter in a legal battle that’s gone on for almost 60 years, and holding the federal government accountable for its misconduct would be a fitting end to this saga,” said David B. Shanies, Aziz’s attorney, in a statement to CNN.

CNN has reached out to the FBI and the Department of Justice for comment.

Malcolm X, one of the most powerful voices in the fight against racism in the nation, took the stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York on February 21, 1965. His wife, Betty Shabazz, and four children were in the crowd.

Not long after, shots were fired and the icon was dead.

In 2021, New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge Ellen Biben granted the motion to vacate the convictions of Aziz and Islam.

A 22-month investigation led by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office and involving the Innocence Project and lawyers for the men found that evidence of their innocence, including FBI documents, was withheld at trial, according to court documents.

Aziz, Islam and a third man – Mujahid Halim – were sentenced to life in prison after their convictions. Halim admitted he shot Malcolm X but said both Aziz and Islam weren’t involved in the killing.

Aziz spent over 20 years in maximum security prisons

Aziz, a US Navy veteran, was 26 and a father of six children at the time of his arrest, according to court documents.

The lawsuit claims numerous FBI officials, including former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, engaged in acts of corruption and misconduct by presenting false evidence in the case “to divert blame from individuals whom certain FBI employees did not want to see prosecuted for their crimes.”

FBI employees concealed information that would have exonerated Aziz “for the purposes of, inter alia, protecting and concealing the scope, nature, and activities of its domestic “Counterintelligence Program,” also called “COINTELPRO,” the lawsuit says.

COINTELPRO, or the Counter-Intelligence Program, was an FBI-run covert surveillance program that monitored the Black Panthers, as well as civil rights and anti-war activists, among others. COINTELPRO was disbanded in 1971. Hoover died in 1972.

As a result of the FBI’s actions, Aziz, now 85, spent more than 20 years in maximum security prisons for a crime he did not commit, according to the lawsuit.

Aziz was released from prison in 1985; Islam was released in 1987 but received a posthumous exoneration.

In October 2022, New York agreed to pay $26 million to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of Aziz and Islam’s estate.

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