Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has apologised on behalf of the law enforcement community for the "decades-long injustice."
More than half a century after the assassination of Black activist and civil rights advocate Malcolm X, two of his wrongfully-convicted killers have been exonerated.
Judge Ellen Biben granted on Thursday the exonerations of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam to a burst of applause from the courtroom, a historic move that amends the narrative behind one of the US civil rights movement's deepest wounds.
"I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of justice in this case and give you back the many years that were lost," the judge told Aziz and the family of Islam, who died in 2009.
For more than half a century the official record has held that three members of the Black nationalist group Nation of Islam—which Malcolm X had recently renounced—shot the iconic leader when he arrived to speak at the podium of a Harlem ballroom.
Aziz, Islam and a third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, were convicted in 1966, but historians have long cast doubt on that thesis.
Halim—now 80 and released from prison in 2010—confessed to the murder but maintained the innocence of the other two.
"Who Killed Malcolm X?"
In 2020, the case was reopened following the release of a Netflix docuseries "Who Killed Malcolm X?"
The 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney's office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors, the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that would likely have led to their acquittal.
Aziz, 83, was sentenced to life in prison in 1966 but was released in 1985. Also sentenced to life, Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe made "clear these men did not receive a fair trial" and apologized on behalf of the law enforcement community for the "decades-long injustice."
"We can't restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith," Vance said.
After Malcolm X was shot dead on February 21, 1965, Halim was taken into custody at the scene with a bullet wound to the leg.
Aziz and Islam were arrested several days later. Both denied involvement in the assassination and provided alibis for where they were at the time of the shooting.