His claim against the state seeks at least $20 million in damages, “a modicum of compensation for the destruction wrought by this grievous miscarriage of justice,” the lawsuit stated, citing the damage that the wrongful conviction inflicted on Aziz’s mental health, reputation and relationships.
According to the Times, his legal team notified New York City that they plan to file a $40 million civil rights suit against the city as well if a settlement isn’t reached.
On November 17, the office of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance announced that it would be thrown out the convictions of Aziz and co-defendant Khalil Islam after a 22-month investigation. A court exonerated the two men the next day.
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In a statement about the lawsuit, Aziz said, “The more than 20 years that I spent in prison were stolen from me and my family, and while the official record now recognizes the truth that has been known for decades, nothing can undo the damage that my wrongful conviction caused to all of us.
“Those responsible for depriving me of my liberty and for depriving my family of a husband, a father, and a grandfather should be held accountable,” he added.
Aziz, now 83, was incarcerated at 26 after being tried for Malcolm X’s assassintion in 1966. He spent two decades behind bars before authorities released him on parole in 1985. While serving his sentence, Aziz’s wife left him, and his six children grew up with him, according to the Times. After his release, he continued to live with the stigma of being one of the men who slew the civil rights icon.
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The district attorney’s office investigation and attorneys for Aziz and Islam found that prosecutors, the F.B.I. and New York Police Department withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would have likely led to acquittal for both of them. Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009.
Doubts about Aziz and Islam’s guilt existed for many years. A third man, Talmadge Hayer (later known as Mujahid Abdul Halim), confessed to the murder during a trial and said Aziz and Islam were not involved. He later identified his actual co-conspirators. A Netflix documentary, Who Killed Malcolm X, renewed interest in the case.
According to the newspaper, New York State Attorney General Letitia James will determine how to handle Aziz’s claim against the state. New York City’s law department would review the case if a lawsuit is filed.