Federal prosecutors in Minnesota tabled murder-for-hire charges on Monday against the daughter of slain Muslim leader Malcolm X, in return for her agreement to complete a two-year psychiatric and drug dependency program and to stop contending that the government entrapped her.
Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, 34, was indicted in January on charges of trying to arrange the assassination of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Her defense team, headed by civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, has said that an emotionally vulnerable Shabazz was lured into the plot.
Her mother, Betty Shabazz, accused Farrakhan publicly last year of involvement in the 1965 killing of Malcolm X. Farrakhan issued repeated denials. Government tapes revealed Qubilah Shabazz discussing her rage against Farrakhan--"he’s a slimy pig"--and her fear that the Nation would harm her mother--"I do think that eventually, he’s going to in a very slick way have her killed.”
U.S. District Judge James M. Rosenbaum accepted the settlement, negotiated over the weekend, minutes before jury selection was to begin. If convicted, Shabazz would have faced up to 90 years in jail and $2.25 million in fines.
Shabazz said she was “relieved that it’s over now.”
“We hope and expect that we will never again see her in court,” U.S. Atty. David Lillehaug said.
In forgoing prosecution, Lillehaug cited concerns about the government’s main witness, moves by Shabazz last fall to withdraw from the murder scheme, her “acceptance of responsibility” and the “unique circumstances of the case,” which he characterized as “an extraordinary set of historical and personal events.”
The conduct of the prospective hit man, who taped telephone conversations with Shabazz for the FBI, has been a major issue in the case. Michael Fitzpatrick, a high school friend of Shabazz, was on drugs and in debt during the course of the investigation. He had been an FBI informant previously and originally moved from New York to the Twin Cities area as a participant in the federal witness protection program.
“We were concerned about the checkered past of the informant from Day One,” Lillehaug said in a telephone interview, “and indeed we were prepared to turn down prosecution of the case until Qubilah Shabazz confessed.”
During a session with FBI agents in December, Shabazz initialed and signed a statement that she “jokingly asked Fitzpatrick if he would kill Louis Farrakhan.” During June of 1994, the statement said, “Fitzpatrick asked me if I was serious about killing Farrakhan. I told him I wanted Farrakhan dead but would feel guilty if someone else was involved and got caught. The idea to kill Farrakhan was my idea. . . . I believed that Fitzpatrick could do it and get away with it.”
Shabazz had begun backing out of the plot in October and early November of 1994, Lillehaug said, but once she signed the statement in December, “it was unacceptable to all of us to sweep this matter under the rug.”
Rosenbaum ruled the statement admissible last week. In an affidavit signed Sunday, Shabazz said the statement, “although incomplete and inaccurate in some details, is substantially true and substantially reflects what I said.” Still, Larry Leventhal, a lawyer on the defense team, said Monday that Shabazz “never initiated the plan.”
She added that she accepts that federal authorities acted in good faith. “We certainly don’t extend that to any of the actions of Fitzpatrick,” Leventhal said.
The case against Shabazz will go forward if she violates Monday’s settlement during the next two years. In a few weeks, she will enter a 90-day residential treatment program in Texas and will continue counseling afterward, Leventhal said. She also agreed to hold a job or attend school. The trial would proceed if she commits a felony during the next two years.
Fitzpatrick, who before the indictment was once again placed in the federal witness protection program, would presumably continue in it at least during the term of the agreement. “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions,” Lillehaug said.
Fitzpatrick testified in March that he’d been promised a $45,000 stipend for his efforts in the Shabazz case and that he had already received $34,000.
“He’s lost his job,” Lillehaug said. “He had to leave Minneapolis, a city he likes.”
Lillehaug said the government also had “made no promises” to Fitzpatrick regarding cocaine possession charges stemming from a November, 1993, arrest in Minneapolis.
The announcement six weeks ago of the indictment ripped open a 30-year-old wound dividing the Black Muslim community in the United States. Shabazz, along with her mother and two of her sisters, witnessed a fusillade of bullets tearing into her father’s chest as he prepared to speak at a Harlem ballroom. For years afterward, even though three men were convicted of the crime, rumors circulated that Malcolm X was killed on the orders of Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam leader who had split with him, or of Farrakhan, who took his place as the group’s national spokesman, or of the FBI--or all three.
The full truth of the matter never emerged.
Likewise, the charges against Shabazz drew impassioned accusations that the government was fomenting discord in the black community. Such criticisms came even from Farrakhan, who told an emotional crowd at a Chicago mosque that Shabazz was a victim of “wicked machinations” by the federal government.
Such talk appears to have drawn Betty Shabazz closer to Farrakhan after years of bitterness. “I am pleased with Minister Louis Farrakhan,” the widow of Malcolm X said Monday, “for his outreach and his sensitivity, kindness and wanting to help my daughter, not believing one word of this.”
The two plan to appear together Saturday at the Apollo Theater in New York at a $15- to $100-a-ticket fund-raiser for the Shabazz family.
The co-chairs of the event--Leonard F. Muhammad, Farrakhan’s chief of staff, and Haki Madhubuti, who represents the Shabazz family--issued a statement on Monday that the benefit will go on as scheduled.
“We are cautiously optimistic that Qubilah Shabazz will ultimately be completely exonerated. . . . We believe that the charges should have been completely dropped,” the two wrote. “We also are concerned about the creative manner employed that will allow the real guilty parties to escape legal consequences for what we believe was conspiracy and entrapment.”