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Grandson Admits Setting Fire That Led To Betty Shabazz’s Death

Fri., July 11, 1997

The 12-year-old grandson of Malcolm X added another tortured chapter to the family history Thursday by admitting he set the apartment fire that killed his grandmother, Betty Shabazz.

Malcolm Shabazz, named for the slain black activist, pleaded guilty in Family Court to the juvenile equivalent of manslaughter and arson.

The boy could be held in a juvenile center until he turns 18.

Malcolm reportedly told police he set the June 1 fire because he wanted to be reunited with his mother in Texas. The youth, smelling of gasoline, was found ringing doorbells in nearby Mount Vernon hours after the incident.

Shabazz suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body in the early morning fire. She endured a series of painful operations to replace charred skin before dying June 23.

“I’ve had many unsettling and sad experiences in my life,” said defense attorney Percy Sutton, who also represented Malcolm X.

“But I’ve never experienced such pain as I did today in standing next to that child and hearing him admit to issues that I wish could never have happened.”

Malcolm, showing no emotion and sitting with his hands clasped in front of him, was the only person to take the stand at the proceeding. His mother, Qubilah Shabazz, joined him in the courtroom.

“Did you recklessly cause the death of another person … when you knew she was in the apartment?” asked prosecutor Barbara Kukowski. “Did you do this?”

“Yes,” the youth replied.

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