The Shabazz case settlement

May 11, 1995

Prosecutors' last-minute decision to drop charges against Quibilah Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter, for allegedly plotting to kill Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan lets the government off the hook in a case that was beginning to look like a no-win proposition regardless of the outcome.

Ms. Shabazz was indicted in January by a Minneapolis grand jury after a federal informant claimed she tried to hire him to kill Mr. Farrakhan. Prosecutors alleged Ms. Shabazz wanted Mr. Farrakhan killed because she believed he was involved in her father's assassination 30 years ago and because she feared Mr. Farrakhan might try to harm her mother, Betty Shabazz.

But the government's case was shaky from the start. Michael K. Fitzpatrick, the informant who was the prosecution's chief witness, turned out to be an unsavory character with what officials conceded was "a very checkered past." He admitted being paid $45,000 to testify against Ms. Shabazz and also acknowledged a history of drug abuse.

Ms. Shabazz insisted she had been set up as part of a government campaign to discredit black leaders. Mr. Farrakhan, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in Malcolm X's murder, said he also believed Ms. Shabazz was set up.

The case threatened to reopen a 30-year-old controversy stemming from Malcolm X's murder in a New York City auditorium. Three Nation of Islam members were eventually convicted of that crime, but some people still believe the FBI was aware of the plot and yet allowed it to proceed.

Officials in Minneapolis may have feared similar allegations of complicity if they didn't take the alleged plot against Mr. Farrakhan seriously. But their efforts were undermined by Mr. Fitzpatrick's utter lack of credibility. Ironically, putting him on the stand would only have fueled charges of an elaborate government conspiracy to slander Mr. Farrakhan by cruelly exploiting Ms. Shabazz's financial and emotional vulnerability.

Thus the settlement was a face-saving arrangement for all concerned. By dropping the murder-for-hire charges in exchange for Ms. Shabazz' vaguely worded agreement to "accept responsibility" for involvement in the plot, the government avoided appearing to try to make a mountain of a molehill. Mr. Farrakhan, who could have been dragged into an ugly rehash of events of 30 years ago, managed to emerge looking more like a healer than a hatemonger. And Ms. Shabazz, most of whose 34 years have been shadowed by the tragedy of her father's murder, can put this episode behind her and try to get on with her life.

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