Propelled by the debut of a new Neflix documentary that digs into the case of the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, the district attorney in New York is considering a reinvestigation of the shooting that claimed the life of the famed civil rights icon.
In a statement this week to The New York Times, the office of Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance said the six-part series, “Who Killed Malcolm X” has brought forth enough evidence to spur a preliminary review of the case in which three men, Talmadge X Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted and sentenced in Malcolm X’s death.
Hayer (who later identified as Mujahid Abdul Halim) confessed to his part in the shooting, but said in 1977 and 1978 affidavits that Butler (who became Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Johnson (who became Khalil Islam) were innocent and had nothing to do with the assassination. All three men were members of the same Harlem mosque where Malcolm had once been a leader.
Each of the men was convicted in 1966 and sentenced to 20 years to life. Halim was granted parole in 2010. Aziz was paroled in 1985 and Islam in 1987. He died in 2009.
The decision for a preliminary review came after attorneys from The Innocence Project staged a presentation in front of the Manhattan D.A. 's office, spokesman Danny Frost told The Washington Post. They claim Aziz spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
“We are grateful that District Attorney Vance quickly agreed to conduct a review of the conviction of Muhammad Aziz. Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, said Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project and special counsel. He said he was encouraged to be working with assistant D.A. Peter Casolaro, who played a role in overturning the Central Park Five case.
“Mr. Casolaro did extraordinary work on the case of the Exonerated Five and Mr. King is an experienced member of the Conviction Integrity Program,” Scheck continued. “We look forward to working cooperatively with them to see that justice is done.”
The documentary, which originally ran on the Fusion network last year, poses the same assertion and points the finger at other individuals who worked inside the Nation of Islam, and with the U.S. government to cut Malcolm down 55 years ago this month at the Audobon Ballroom in New York.
The series is narrated by Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who works as a tour guide in Washington D.C., and is one of an army of independent researchers over the years who have never been satisfied with the outcome of the case.
“It bothered me that no one cared about it,” said Muhammad. “I didn’t get paid to do any of this. I’ve sold cars. I’m just a working-class guy.”
According to the Times and the documentary, in 2010, Muhammad says he found evidence that another individual, William Bradley (later Almustafa Shabazz), who was named in Halim’s affidavit, was the actual triggerman.
Shabazz, who lived in Newark, N.J., was married to activist Carolyn Kelley and appeared in a campaign video for Sen. Cory Booker when he was running for mayor of Newark. He died in 2018 and was never named as a suspect in Malcolm’s killing.
He denied having any connection to the crime when the New York Daily News reached him in 2015. "It's an accusation," Shabazz said. "They never spoke to me. They just accused me of something I didn't do."
But the late Columbia University scholar, Manning Marable, wrote in his 2011 biography, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” that Shabazz, known among Newark’s Black Muslims as an intimidating enforcer, was indeed the shooter.
Shabazz “elevated his sawed-off shotgun from under his coat, took careful aim, and fired," Marable wrote in the book, released shortly after his death. "This was the kill shot, the blow that executed Malcolm X."
However, others contradict the notion that Shabazz was the killer.
"The person who fired the kill shot has gotten away," Rodnell Collins, Malcolm’s nephew told the Daily News. He maintains an unknown Asian man murdered him and quickly left the country, something that has been repeated in urban legend. "If he was walking the street, he wouldn't be alive. He would simply disappear."
“Who Killed Malcolm X" is currently streaming on Netflix.