Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of The Innocence Project, Steps Up in Clearing Two Men Convicted in the Malcolm X Murder - The Jewish Voice
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Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of The Innocence Project, Steps Up in Clearing Two Men Convicted in the Malcolm X Murder

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Two of the three men convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X were set to be cleared Thursday after insisting on their innocence since the 1965 killing of one of the United States’ most formidable fighters for civil rights, their lawyers and Manhattan’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.

The AP reported that a nearly two-year-long re-investigation found that authorities withheld evidence favorable to the defense in the trial of Muhammad Aziz, now 83, and the late Khalil Islam, said their attorneys, the Innocence Project and civil rights lawyer David Shanies.

Aziz called his conviction “the result of a process that was corrupt to its core — one that is all too familiar” even today, as was reported by the AP.

“I do not need a court, prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent,” he said in a statement. But he said he was glad his family, friends and lawyers would get to see “the truth we have all known, officially recognized.”

He urged the criminal justice system to “take responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me.”

The AP reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. tweeted that his office would join the men’s attorneys in asking a judge Thursday to toss out the convictions.

“These men did not get the justice that they deserved,” Vance told The New York Times, which first reported on the developments.

“The assassination of Malcolm X was a historic event that demanded a scrupulous investigation and prosecution but, instead, produced one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice that I have ever seen,” Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said in a statement.

Barry Scheck, one of the attorneys who represented OJ Simpson in the murder case of his ex-wife Nicole Brown in the 1994 as part of the “dream team” of attorneys in the case is the co-founder of the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project was conceived in 1992 by Scheck as well as Peter Neufeld, also a co-counsel on the Simpson defense team.

Scheck originally established the Innocence Project while teaching at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan. Wikipedia reports that he is the Director of Clinical Education for the Trial Advocacy Program and the Center for the Study of Law and Ethics, and a former staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of New York.

From 2004–2005 Scheck served as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Wikipedia reported that in 1996 he received the Robert C. Heeney Award, the “NACDL’s most prestigious award which is given annually to the one criminal defense attorney who best exemplifies the goals and values of the Association, and the legal profession.” They get thousands of letters every year from inmates claiming to have been wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project is dedicated to the utilization of DNA evidence as a means to exculpate individuals of crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted, according to a report on Wikipedia. To date, 375 wrongful convictions have been overturned by DNA testing thanks to the Project and other legal organizations. Wikipedia reported that the Innocence Project does not use legal technicalities to challenge convictions and the Project accepts only cases in which newly discovered scientific evidence can potentially prove that a convicted person is factually not guilty.

Born into a Jewish family in Queens, New York, in 1949, Scheck grew up in Port Washington, New York, as per Wikipedia. He graduated from the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York in 1967. He went on to receive a B.A. from Yale University in 1971 (majoring in Economics and American Studies) and a Master of City Planning (M.C.P.) and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California, Berkeley in 1974.

In addition to gaining international recognition as one of OJ Simpson’s attorneys, Scheck also represented Hedda Nussbaum in the 1987 murder case of her six-year old daughter in New York City. Wikipedia reported that he both defended her and assisted in getting the charges against her dropped, while also assisting in ensuring Joel Steinberg’s arrest and suing him in a civil case.

Scheck was also associated with the 1999 clearing of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson who had spent 11 years in prison on wrongful murder convictions. He was also the lead lawyer who defended British au pair Louise Woodward in her 1997 murder trial.

More recently, Scheck served as attorney of the wrongly accused Duke University lacrosse player Reade Seligmann and represented him in a civil lawsuit filed on October 5, 2007, against the city of Durham, North Carolina, and its former district attorney, Mike Nifong, according to the Wikipedia report. He also was responsible for clearing John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut after 18 years in prison for the 1985 Lynbrook rape and murder of Theresa Fusco, when DNA evidence proved them innocent and implicated others. (Sources: AP, Wikipedia. Additional reporting by Fern Sidman)


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