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Malcolm Shabazz has a history of setting things ablaze, igniting sneakers at age 3 and sometimes imagining himself as a character he calls "Sinister Torch," a psychologist testified Tuesday.

Elizabeth Osborn's assertions at a sentencing hearing in Family Court for the 12-year-old boy, were the first public acknowledgment that he ever set a fire before the June 1 blaze that killed his grandmother, Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X.

Ms. Osborn said Malcolm set fire to a pair of sneakers at age 3. At age 9, while at Bronx Children's Hospital, "He had fantasies about setting fires by gasoline," she said.

Malcolm has pleaded guilty to the juvenile equivalent of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree arson.

Family Court Judge Howard Spitz can sentence Malcolm to 18 months detention, but can extend the initial sentence year by year until he is 18.

Ms. Osborn recommended the boy have "two years or more" confined to a restrictive facility under 24-hour watch, without family contact.

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