Two men serving decades in prison for the 1965 murder of human rights activist Malcolm X were convicted on Thursday.
But there was only one of them, Muhammad Aziz, who was in New York City court to hear a judge announce his release - and he saw that justice was finally done and that had been delayed for a long time.
Another convicted felon, Khalil Islam, went to his grave in 2009 insisting he was innocent.
"I am an 83-year-old man who was tortured by the criminal justice system," Aziz, who wore a mask, told the court shortly before his release.
New York County High Court Judge Ellen Biben agreed.
"I apologize to this court for not being able to reverse the serious breach," he said. "There is no doubt that this is a case that cries out for basic justice."
After a while, Aziz's name was washed away and he shook hands with his lawyers and hugged family members in court in the middle of a big shoulder.
Outside a courtroom in Lower Manhattan, the sons of Islam rejoice in the occasion with tears in their eyes.
"It's good but it's bitter," said Ameen Johnson, 57.
His brother, 56, Shahid Johnson, said his father's experience spoke volumes about the American justice system.
"It would not be a good plan because it would not be so long," he said.
Earlier, Manhattan regional attorney Cy Vance apologized to Aziz and Islam on behalf of the law enforcement agencies that sent them to prison.
"I want to start by saying directly to Mr Aziz and his family, and to Mr Islam's family, and Malcolm X that I apologize," Vance said. "We will not be able to restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by fixing the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith."
Vance was followed by human rights lawyer David Shanies who told the court that "these people became victims of the same racism and injustice that Malcolm X was against."
Then, referring specifically to Aziz, he stated: "He has suffered a great deal of injustice and suffering for a thousand years."
On Wednesday, Aziz issued a statement using his defense lawyers and the Islamic legacy - the Innocence Project and the Shanes Law Office, a New York-based human rights law firm.
“The events that brought us here should never have happened; "Those events were also the result of a process that was corrupt in its core - very common - even in 2021," he said.
“Although I do not need a court, prosecutors, or a paperback, I am glad that my family, friends, and lawyers who have worked for me and supported me over the years are finally recognizing the truth. we all know, we are officially recognized, ”he said.
Aziz's release from Islam closed a 22-month joint investigation by their lawyers and the Manhattan Regional Attorney's Office into a series of incidents that led to unjust convictions.
It also confirmed decades of speculation that the case had not been handled in the first place.
Muhammad A. Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler, left; and Khalil Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson, in 1965.
Muhammad A. Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler, and Khalil Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson, 1965.AP
Malcolm X was shot dead in Feb. 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak. Inside the ballroom, a few men opened fire, hitting him on the stage.
Three members of the Nation of Islam were arrested: Mujahid Abdul Halim, then known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan; Aziz, then known as Norman 3X Butler; and Islam, then known as Thomas 15X Johnson.
Halim admitted to taking part in the killings but insisted that Aziz and Islam did not take part in it, according to the Innocence Project.
Nevertheless, all three were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1966.
Then last year, a Netflix series of articles entitled "Who Killed Malcolm X?" raised enough questions about the case and Vance announced he would review the men's cases.
Among the issues raised in the series: Aziz had a strong alibi. He injured his leg and went to the hospital a few hours before he was killed. The doctor who treated her had also stood up for her.
"On the day of the murder, which was Sunday morning, I was lying on the bed with my feet up and I heard on the radio," recalls Aziz in "Who Killed Malcolm X?"
Halim later identified four other men he said were involved in the killings. But the judge at that time dismissed the appeal for the reversal of Aziz and Islamic beliefs.
Aziz, in a statement, said he did not know "how many years I will create."
"However, I hope that the same system that contributed to this abuse of justice will also meet the immeasurable damage it has done to me."