Local/State

Jury finds NJ dad guilty in baby bridge death

Friday, September 07, 2012

A man who kidnapped his infant daughter from her grandmother's home and tossed the child over a New Jersey bridge into the icy river below was convicted Friday of her murder.

Shamsidden Abdur-Raheem, 24, bowed his head and showed little reaction as guilty verdicts for murder, kidnapping and related charges were read in state superior court in New Brunswick.

The child's mother, Venetta Benjamin, who testified during the trial, let out a quick gasp of air, tears rolling down her cheeks as the verdict was read. She later thanked all those "who have worked tirelessly on this case and verdict, to ensure justice for my daughter," adding; "God is good."

New Jersey's attorney general lauded the verdict, saying it was "a chapter in a tragedy, but a chapter that needed to be written," in a case that prompted an overhaul of the state's rules on issuing missing child alerts.

Abdur-Raheem admitted during the trial that he threw 3-month-old Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem off a Garden State Parkway bridge into the Raritan River on Feb. 16, 2010. But he claimed he believed the child already was dead from injuries she suffered during a fight with the baby's grandmother.

The infant's body was found on the shore of the Raritan two months later by passers-by.

The jury acquitted Abdur-Raheem of attempted murder of the baby's maternal grandmother, Leno Benjamin. The grandmother had been caring for the infant at her East Orange apartment while the child's mother was obtaining a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem. Jurors convicted him on lesser charges related to Abdur-Raheem assaulting the grandmother while taking the child.

Abdur-Raheem testified that during a struggle with the child's grandmother, the baby fell and hit her head.

But a state forensic anthropologist testified the skull fractures found on the baby were made at or about the time of death and that they were caused by a significant fall and not one of four feet or less.

During his testimony, Abdur-Raheem said he placed the infant in a knapsack, and pushed her out the passenger side window and off the Driscoll Bridge, into the river more than 100 feet below.

"I tossed my daughter off the bridge," he said. "I don't know why."

Family members said at the time of the baby's disappearance that the couple, who never married, had a bumpy relationship since they started dating as freshmen at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Abdur-Raheem, of Galloway Township, wore a suit, tie and glasses in court, and showed little reaction during the proceedings in front of State Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz. Abdur-Raheem's mother and father, both present in court for the verdict, declined to comment. His attorney, Michael Priarone, did not comment following the verdict, and did not return a call seeking comment.

Deputy Attorney General Andrew Fried, who prosecuted the case, said he appreciated that jurors seemed to have taken their time because they were taking the case seriously. The jury deliberated for four days and made several requests for clarification on legal points and to have testimony transcripts read to them.

"People came up to me and said: 'Why isn't there a verdict?'" Fried said. "Obviously this jury wanted to be very, very careful, and they took it very seriously, and obviously came out with the right verdict."

Abdur-Raheem faces a minimum of 40 years in prison on the murder and kidnapping charges and up to life in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 7, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.

The case prompted changes to the state's procedures for issuing Amber Alerts, information about a missing child broadcast on television and radio stations and posted on electronic highway message boards.

No alert was issued between the time Zara went missing and Abdur-Raheem was arrested because state law then discouraged use of the alerts in suspected domestic cases. Now, state police issue the alerts even in cases of suspected parental involvement in a child's abduction.

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new jersey, baby death, local/state
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