It’s been more than half a century since civil rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated, but thanks to a new Netflix documentary series, the case is being reopened.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office announced Tuesday that it would again look into the assassination after the documentary presented the case of Muhammad Abdul Aziz, one of the alleged accomplices who has always maintained his innocence. Aziz is now 81 and was fingered as one of the additional gunmen by members of a crowd listening to Malcolm X speak.
Malcolm X was giving a speech in Manhattan on February 21, 1965 when a member of the audience allegedly yelled a racial slur. Malcolm X and his bodyguards tried to calm the audience. At some point, a man identified as Nation of Islam member Talmadge Hayer shot Malcolm X in the chest. Two other men, later identified as Nation of Islam members Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson, allegedly fired handguns at the stage.
Butler is now known as Aziz and has always said he was not one of the shooters. Hayer said at trial that he shot Malcolm X but that neither Butler nor Johnson were the other shooters. In the late 1970s, Hayer signed affidavits asserting the two other convicted men were not involved in the shooting. The affidavits insisted four other members of the Nation of Islam were responsible for the planning and the actual killing, yet the case was not reopened at that time based on Hayer’s word.
Johnson, who later changed his name to Khalil Islam, maintained his innocence until he died in August 2009.
The New York Post reported that the Netflix documentary series “Who Killed Malcolm X?” follows Aziz’s case. In the documentary, historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad seeks answers regarding Malcolm X’s death.
The Innocence Project is assisting in Aziz’s defense, and representatives from the organization are reportedly working with Vance’s office.
“We are grateful that District Attorney Vance quickly agreed to conduct a review of the conviction of Muhammad Aziz,” said Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck in a statement provided to the Post.
As the Post reported, no physical evidence linked Aziz to the murder or the scene, and he has always said he wasn’t even there that day – instead sitting at home recovering from leg injuries.
“[Vance] has determined that the district attorney’s office will begin a preliminary review of the matter, which will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken,” said Manhattan DA spokesman Danny Frost.
The DA’s office said prosecutors Charles King and Peter Casolaro will look into the case. Casolaro previously helped clear the Central Park Five.
“Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, we are especially encouraged that Mr. Vance has assigned two highly respected prosecutors, Peter Casolaro and Charles King, to work on this re-investigation,” Scheck said.
Aziz was paroled in 1985. Upon his release, he maintained his membership with the Nation of Islam and led its Harlem mosque in 1998.