Justice Overdue: Reinvestigating the Murder of Malcolm X

In the Public Interest

Mar 7 2023 • 33 mins

In late February of 1965, Malcolm X was murdered at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. In the days after the famous civil rights leader’s assassination, three men were arrested and charged with his murder. All three men were later convicted on those charges, despite testimony that two of those men, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, were innocent. In the years since, Aziz and Islam steadfastly maintained their innocence, and in 2020, The Innocence Project took up their case. Nearly five decades later, Aziz and Islam were exonerated in November 2021, after The Innocence Project successfully urged Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to reinvestigate the case.

In this episode, In the Public Interest co-host John Walsh invites WilmerHale Partner April Williams to share the story of her involvement in The Innocence Project’s efforts to exonerate Aziz and Islam. Williams focuses her practice on complex civil and criminal litigation and maintains an active pro bono practice, including her work with a team of WilmerHale lawyers supporting The Innocence Project on this case. Vanessa Potkin, director of special litigation at The Innocence Project, joins Walsh and Williams for an in-depth discussion of The Innocence Project’s work to exonerate the two men.

Walsh, Williams and Potkin revisit the political tensions swirling around the time of Malcolm X’s murder and the specific events leading up to his assassination on the afternoon of February 21, 1965. They discuss the thorny legal issues involved in seeking to overturn a decades-old conviction and how a newly discovered evidence law in New York formed the legal grounds that ultimately led to Aziz and Islam’s official exoneration. The episode wraps up with Potkin sharing how racial disparities in the criminal justice system are also borne out in wrongful convictions, with Black individuals making up nearly half of known exonerations.

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