GALLOWAY, NJ — A New Jersey man accused of murder by throwing his three-month old daughter off a bridge on the Garden State Parkway has been found guilty of murder, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced Friday afternoon.
Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem, 24, of Galloway, had been accused of murder by throwing his daughter, Zara Malani-Lin Abdur Raheem, out of the passenger side of his Dodge Caravan off the Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge on the Garden State Parkway in Woodbridge Township 140 feet in the Raritan River on Feb. 16, 2010.
The van was parked on the shoulder of the Parkway when he threw her out the window, Chiesa said.
He was found guilty by a Middlesex County jury following a two-week trial and four days of deliberation.
Vanetta Benjamin, Zara's mother, gave a brief statement to a room full of press on Friday afternoon, thanking the law enforcement and legal teams involved in the case.
Surrounded by law officials and members of her family, Benjamin, ended her statement by saying “God is good.”
She did not take questions from reporters.
Chiesa said the verdict showed the value placed on Zara’s life.
“Today, justice was granted for baby Zara,” he said, describing the verdict as one that “does not prompt celebration,” but still necessary.
Chiesa said he hoped the verdict brought “some measure of peace,” to Zara’s family.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew C. Fried said that he was asked why the verdict took time to be returned, which he said reflected a serious and attentive jury.
Abdur-Raheem was also found guilty of kidnapping and two counts of simple assault in connection of the kidnapping of his daughter from an East Orange apartment belonging to the baby's grandmother, Chiesa said.
The baby was living with her mother and grandmother in the apartment.
He was acquitted of the charge of attempted murder of the baby's grandmother, but he was convicted of assault and assault with an automobile, according to Chiesa.
Fried said Abdur-Raheem faces 30 years to life in state prison on the murder charge, plus a consecutive sentence of up to 30 years on the kidnapping charge.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 7, he said.
“We are grateful to the jurors, who had to listen and watch as the heartbreaking events in this tragic case of domestic violence were re-created, and who by their verdict delivered justice for Zara, her mother and the grandmother who tried to defend her,” Chiesa said in a release. “Our attorney, detectives and entire trial team deserve great credit for their skilled handling of this case. It’s important that, by their efforts, they affirmed that Zara’s life was of great value and asserted that the man who took her life must face the full consequences of his crime.”
“From the moment police heard that a baby was thrown from the Driscoll Bridge, this case commanded our attention,” Division of Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said in a release. “The rescue efforts sadly were doomed, but an excellent team of investigators and attorneys, led by members of the State Police Major Crime Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice and assisted by other law enforcement agencies, immediately began a painstaking pursuit of evidence and justice, which has brought us to this verdict.”
Vanetta Benjamin had custody of the baby and had procured a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem the day the baby was killed, Chiesa said. At the time of the kidnapping, the baby was being watched by the grandmother, Leno Benjamin, Chiesa said.
Abdur-Raheem went to the apartment around 4 p.m. that day, Chiesa said. According to Chiesa, Benjamin asked Abdur-Raheem to leave, but he refused. He then grabbed her arm before striking the 60-year-old Benjamin in the head, choked her and kidnapped his daughter.
Surveillance video shows Benjamin followed Abdur-Raheem out of the apartment and attempted to stop him, but he struck her with the van, Chiesa said.
He then headed south. After throwing his daughter into the river, he went to Atlantic City to see his imam, his Islamic religious leader, and confessed to him what he had done, according to Chiesa. The imam drove him to the home of his parents, where he confessed to his parents as well, Chiesa said.
He was arrested by State Police at 8 p.m. that night. The baby's body was found by surveyors two months later, on April 24, 2010.
An autopsy determined that she died from blunt force trauma and drowning, Chiesa said.
During the trial, Abdur-Raheem testified that his daughter appeared to be dead before he tossed her from the bridge. He said she fell to the floor and hit her head when he was tussling with the grandmother, Chiesa said.