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Murder charge possible in Betty Shabazz death

Betty Shabbaz June 24, 1997
Web posted at: 11:56 a.m. EDT (1556 GMT)

(CNN) -- Betty Shabazz was hailed as "a champion of solid dignity and quiet strength" as a 12-year-old grandson accused of setting the fire that killed her faced the possibility of a murder charge.

The boy has been in juvenile custody since the June 1 fire in his grandmother's apartment in Yonkers, New York, north of New York City. Betty Shabazz, the widow of civil rights activist Malcolm X, who became a leader in her own right after his 1965 assassination, died on Monday of burns suffered in the fire. She was 61 and is survived by six daughters.

Friends, leaders pay tribute to Shabazz

Specific charges against the grandson have never been made public, but Mrs. Shabazz's death means the Westchester County attorney could upgrade them to include murder.

The boy's lawyer, Percy Sutton, said Monday that since the maximum penalty for a child of this age -- 18 months of detention or custody -- would not be affected by adding a murder charge, it would be "a sad commentary" to do so. "This is sad enough already," he said.

Sutton said the boy would be told of his grandmother's death sometime before a scheduled hearing on Tuesday on petitions from news organizations to open the Family Court case to reporters.

Police say the boy was unhappy that he had been sent to live with his grandmother and set the fire using gasoline.

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