Full Remarks: D.A. Vance Moves to Vacate Wrongful Convictions in Murder of Malcolm X


November 18, 2021

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., together with the Shanies Law Office and the Innocence Project, today moved to vacate the trial convictions and dismiss the indictment of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. D.A. Vance stated the following in court as he filed the motion, which Chief Administrative Judge Ellen Biben granted.
 
“Good afternoon, Your Honor. Cy Vance for the People. We are moving today to vacate the convictions and dismiss the indictments of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam for the assassination of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965.
 
“But I want to begin by saying directly to Mr. Aziz and his family, to the family of Mr. Islam, and the family of Malcolm X, that I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust. I apologize on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee the equal protection of the law. We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.
 
“We began by committing to reinvestigate this matter through our Conviction Integrity Program, and I am here today with Deputy Chief Charles King and Carey Dunne, who worked hand-in-hand with the Innocence Project and attorney David Shanies on this two-year re-investigation and the joint motion which I am now submitting to the court.
 
“As detailed in our papers, there are two grounds for our motion: newly discovered evidence, and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence. There is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime.
 
“Since January 2020, my Office’s conviction integrity team has been reinvestigating this case in complete, open-file collaboration with the Innocence Project and the Shanies Law Office, who are joint counsel for Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam.

“Our search for the truth was severely impacted by the passage of time. In the decades since the tragic afternoon at the Audubon Ballroom, every police investigator and trial attorney on the case has died. In a case that rested entirely on eyewitness testimony, every single eye witness that testified at trial, has died. All of the physical evidence, including the shotgun used in the murder, is gone. No telephone records were obtained at the time, and there is no way to get them now.
 
“But what we have obtained now in this reinvestigation, are numerous materials that my office tragically did not have in 1965 and thus did not turn over to the defense. Most critically, we have obtained dozens and dozens of reports, from the FBI and the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations. These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other suspects. And, significantly, we now have reports revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants.
 
“Many of those documents were exculpatory. None of them were disclosed to the defense. Without these files, it is clear these men did not receive a fair trial, and their convictions must be vacated. Moreover, under the unique circumstances presented by a 55-year-old case, there can be no retrial on any of the charges contained in the indictment. Therefore, the People believe the indictment against Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam should be dismissed.
 
“On behalf of the People of the State of New York, together with attorneys from the Innocence Project and the Shanies Law Office, we jointly move to vacate these convictions on the grounds of newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence at trial, and to dismiss indictment number 871/1965 against them. Thank you, your honor.”