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Men exonerated in killing of Malcolm X to receive $36 million settlement after suing New York

(NEW YORK) — Two men who were exonerated in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X will receive a $36 million settlement after lawsuits were filed on their behalf against both the city and the state of New York last year.

New York City agreed to pay $26 million in settling a lawsuit filed on behalf of Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, Islam was exonerated posthumously in the killing. Meanwhile, the state of New York also agreed to pay an additional $10 million.

A New York City Law Department spokesman told ABC News on Sunday evening that the settlement “brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”

“Based on our review, this office stands by the opinion of former Manhattan District Attorney Vance who stated, based on his investigation, that ‘there is one ultimate conclusion: Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were wrongfully convicted of this crime,"” he added.

David Shanies, the attorney who represents Aziz and the late Khalil Islam, confirmed on Sunday evening the terms of the settlement to ABC News.

The settlement comes after Aziz and the estate of Islam sued New York City on July 14, seeking $40 million for malicious prosecution, denial of due process rights and government misconduct. Aziz and the estate of Khalil Islam also filed two multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits in December 2021 aimed at New York state government.

Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance moved to vacate the convictions of Muhammad Aziz, 84, and co-defendant Khalil Islam in November 2021, citing “newly discovered evidence and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.”

“Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for decades – 42 years between them – as the result of outrageous government misconduct and violations of their constitutional rights,” Shanies said in July. “Justice delayed for far too long is justice denied. Mr. Aziz just turned 84 and Mr. Islam tragically died before seeing his name cleared.”

“These men and their families should not be delayed compensation for the gross injustices they suffered,” he added.

Aziz, a U.S. Navy veteran and the father of six children, was 26 when he was arrested for the 1965 murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom. He spent 20 years in prison.

Aziz was released on parole in 1985. Two years later, Islam was released after serving 22 years. They each appealed their convictions and always maintained their innocence. Islam died in 2009 at the age of 74. His estate filed a related claim.

Aziz and Islam were members of the Nation of Islam and belonged to Malcolm X’s mosque #7 in Harlem.

Talmadge Hayer — the confessed assassin of Malcolm X who was caught at the scene — testified at trial that Aziz and Islam were not involved in the killing. In the late 1970s, Hayer signed an affidavit naming four other men who he said were involved in planning and carrying out the murder.

But the case was not reopened until interest in the case was renewed in 2020 following the release of “Who Killed Malcolm X?” – a Netflix documentary that follows the work of independent historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad who spent decades investigating the killing.

“After I had watched the Netflix documentary. I thought there was enough to look at this,” Vance told ABC News’ “Soul of a Nation Presents: Xonerated – The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice,” which aired in February.

Vance apologized last year on behalf of the NYPD and the FBI for what he called “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.”

In his first TV interview since his exoneration, Aziz opened up about the wrongful conviction and trauma of systemic racism to ABC News’ “Soul of a Nation.”

“If God is on your side. it doesn’t matter who’s against you. God’s on my side,” Aziz said in the interview that aired in February.

ABC News’ Melia Patria contributed to this report.

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