I received a call late last night that Brother Khalil Islam, formally known as Thomas 15X Johnson, the man wrongly convicted in 1966 of murdering brother Malcolm X, passed away on Tues. Aug. 4th. He was 74. His funeral was scheduled to be held today, Aug 6th at the 96 th Street Masjid in New York.
I got to know Khalil many years after his release from prison, and he impressed me as a man committed to his religion and loyal to his leader, Imam W.D. Mohammed. Deeply spiritual, he accepted his fate as the will of Allah, and would often tell me about his days in the Nation of Islam when he sometimes acted as Malcolm’s driver. I last spoke to him in May of this year, when we were attempting to get him booked on a local NY television show (which never materialized for reason’s that are still unclear to me). From the time he left prison in 1986 he worked to get his conviction officially overturned and his name cleared. I would listen to him sympathetically but never had the heart to tell him that that was never going to happen. As far as the New York criminal justice system is concerned, the Malcolm X murder case was closed a long time ago.
Khalil Islam never shied away from his past, and was always quite frank in recounting his unsavory role as an N.O.I. enforcer. In Oct. of 2007 the New York Magazine wrote an extensive and fascinating article about his life authored by his friend Marc Jacobson, who also wrote American Gangster.
In 1977 Talmadge Hayer, the only one of the five assassins captured at the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, filed two sworn affidavits with the famed civil rights attorney William Kunstler, detailing the entire murder plot and revealing the names and addresses of the actual killers. In fact, Hayer confessed his guilt during the trial and absolved Thomas Johnson (Khalil Islam) and Norman 3X Butler (the other man wrongly convicted) of any role in the murder. However, due to a legal manoeuvre in which the three men were tried as a group, Hayer’s confession essentially doomed the other two men to spend nearly a quarter of a century in prison. It also didn’t help that a distraught Betty Shabazz, who with her four daughters was present the afternoon her husband was gunned down, left the courtroom crying “they killed my husband“. Khalil Islam was convicted of firing the sawed off shotgun that all experts agree was the “kill shot” that silenced the voice of Malcolm X.
Our condolences go out to his family. To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.
Coming Soon: Biographical sketches of all five assassins of Malcolm X.