56 years ago, he shot Malcolm X. Now he lives quietly in Brooklyn.


While waiting in the waiting room of the New York City courthouse in 1966, Talmadge Hayer turned to the two men who were brought to trial with him. He told them that he intended to confess his role in the murder of Malcolm X and make it clear that they were innocent.

“I just want to tell the truth, that’s all,” he said as he took position.

But the jury was not convinced. Hayer told a different story earlier in his trial, and he still refused to name his accomplices or to say who they work for. Eleven days later, a jury found all three guilty of first degree murder.

Two other men, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, went down in history alongside Hayer as the killers of the civil rights icon. It will take 55 years to clear their names, and Johnson will not live to see his rehab.

The verdicts against Butler and Johnson, who changed their names to Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam while in prison, were handed down in the same Manhattan courthouse last week after a 22-month trial.

But long before the new investigation that led to the rehabilitation, Mujahid Abdul Halim – the name Hayer later chose – insisted on the innocence of the men, trying to rectify the situation and somehow atone for his role in a hugely important act of violence.

Halim was released on parole in 2010. Now 80 years old, he lives quietly in the Sunset Park area of ​​Brooklyn, about 5 miles from the courthouse, which inextricably linked him to two innocent men.

He seems to be behaving with restraint. His name and photo taken several years ago were not recognized in the nearest Muslim community center and mosques in the area. At a hairdresser, pharmacy and grocery store in the Halim quarter, workers said they did not know him. And his wife said in their apartment that Halim did not want to be interviewed.

“I don’t know why he didn’t want it,” she said. “But I think there are a lot of people who really have different attitudes about some things and maybe even about him.”

Two days earlier, a man who identified himself by the name of Halima had only briefly reacted to the news that Aziz and Islam would have to abandon their beliefs.

“God bless you, they are rehabilitated,” he said through the closed door.

Archival photograph of Muhammad Aziz, accompanied by detectives at police headquarters, after his arrest in New York on February 26, 1965 (AP)

Halim was 23 years old, a follower of the black nationalist group, the Nation of Islam, and a member of its mosque in Newark, New Jersey in 1964, when, as he said in affidavits many years later, two men put him in their car. on one of the streets. in downtown Paterson, New Jersey, to discuss the murder of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X spent 12 years with the Nation of Islam, quickly rising to its highest ranks as it expanded. But in 1964, disagreements between him and sect leader Elijah Mohammed escalated into a disorderly schism. From the FBI files, Muhammad privately meant that he should be executed. And two months before the assassination, Minister Louis Farrakhan wrote in the official newspaper The Nation that Malcolm, his former mentor, was worthy of death.

So when Halim was approached in Paterson, his deep religious zeal made him believe he was going through trials, he told Peter Goldman, a journalist who interviewed him in prison for a biography of Malcolm X.

“I just believed it, man. And I was one of those people who, if I had to stand up for what I believe in, I would do it, ”Halim told Goldman.

In his affidavit, Halim recalled the planning of the assassination.

“We met several times to discuss how to commit this murder,” he wrote. “Sometimes we talked when we drove.”

In his affidavit, he also named other men he said were involved in the conspiracy: Leon Davis, Benjamin Thomas and two men, whose full names he did not know, “William X” and a man named “Wilbur or Kinley. “.

They chose not to attack the heavily guarded civil rights leader’s home, and instead took up residence in the Audubon Ballroom in suburban Manhattan, shutting it down the night before the assassination.

On February 21, 1965, when Malcolm X was about to deliver a speech in the ballroom describing a new anti-racist movement aimed at empowering blacks, Halim was one of three men who stood up after a brief distraction and opened fire. In the chaos that followed, Halim was wounded in the leg and detained.

The rest of the shooters, including the man who fired the fatal shot with the shotgun, escaped; Within 10 days, Aziz and Islam, human rights defenders of the Nation of Islam, were arrested and released on bail on charges of beating a defector from the group. (None of the accomplices later identified by Halim have ever been charged with this crime, and they are all presumed dead.)

Even as the trial approached, Halim did not expect his co-defendants to be found guilty.

“I really felt like the brothers would be torn apart,” he told journalist Tony Brown many years later in a prison interview. “I didn’t think they would be convicted until this process started and it became obvious what was being done. And then I had to say something. “

It didn’t matter.

Archival photograph of the Audubon Ballroom following the murder of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965. (AP)

Despite Halim’s statement, alibi testimony and the complete absence of material evidence linking Aziz and Islam to the shooting, the ballroom or each other, they were convicted along with him.

In subsequent years, Halim continued to call for the acquittal of his co-defendants. In 1977, he wrote an affidavit in which he again stated that these people were innocent and identified the other killers.

In another affidavit, the following year, he provided more details on his recruitment into the murder conspiracy and the plan itself, stating that he hoped the additional statements “would remove any doubts about what took place in Malcolm X’s murder and his innocence. … Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson. “

But just as his testimony was ignored, the affidavit did not achieve its purpose. Aziz and Islam’s petition to overturn their convictions was rejected by Judge Harold Rotwax, who was known for his tough approach to the accused.

In jail, according to independent historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, the brunt of what he did fell on Halim, who has studied the life and death of Malcolm X for over 30 years and hosted a series of Netflix murder documentaries.

NYPD officers stand in front of the Audubon Ballroom on 166th Street Broadway in Manhattan’s Harlem borough where Malcolm X was killed while speaking at a rally on February 21, 1965. (AP)

Following the death of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam in 1975, his son, Varith Dean Mohammed, began teaching his followers a new set of beliefs, including ideas about the afterlife, while restoring Malcolm X’s good name. At that moment, according to the historian, Halim became worried about the state of his soul.

“In prison, he was completely exhausted because he was holding it back on a bundle of lies,” said Abdur-Rahman Muhammad. “He took a man’s life because of a lie.”

Goldman said in an interview last week that he was struck by what he believed was Halim’s sincere remorse.

“It’s hard for me to say that I liked the killer, especially the killer of the man I respected so much,” Goldman said. “But this is where I ended up.”

Goldman, who is friends with Aziz, said Aziz also forgave Halim for his role in the murder, which led to an illegal conviction, partly due to affidavits and partly for religious reasons. According to Goldman, Aziz called his former co-accused “an innocent heart.” (Aziz does not give interviews.)

Halim spent over 40 years in prison. He received his BA and MA in sociology and participated in a work-off program that allowed him to spend most of the week outside of prison.

Halim briefly worked at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island and at the Steak’N’Take fast food restaurant. He was released in 2010 and has since lived in Brooklyn, across the city from the Audubon Ballroom, where he participated in the murder that changed his life – and the lives of innocent people convicted with him.

“He doesn’t want to ever seem to benefit from what he has done,” said historian Muhammad. “That’s why he doesn’t give interviews. He is sincerely trying to save his soul from hellfire and absolutely does not want to benefit from what he has done. He is ashamed of what he has done. “

This article originally appeared in New York Times


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