NEW BRUNSWICK – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem was found guilty of murder today for throwing his infant daughter from a bridge on the Garden State Parkway into the Raritan River in February 2010. The baby’s body was found on the bank of the river two months later.
Abdur-Raheem, 24, of Galloway Township, was found guilty of murder by a Middlesex County jury following a two-week trial before Superior Court Judge Bradley J. Ferencz in New Brunswick. In addition, the jury found Abdur-Raheem guilty of kidnapping and two counts of simple assault in connection with his abduction of the baby from an apartment in East Orange, during which he attacked the baby’s maternal grandmother and struck the grandmother with his van. He was found not guilty of attempted murder in connection with the assaults on the grandmother.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew C. Fried prosecuted the case for the Division of Criminal Justice. Abdur-Raheem faces a sentence of 30 years to life in state prison on the murder charge. He faces a consecutive sentence of up to 30 years on the kidnapping charge. Judge Ferencz scheduled sentencing for Abdur-Raheem for Nov. 7.
“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,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “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,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. “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.”
By its verdict, the jury found that Abdur-Raheem killed his 3-month-old daughter, Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem, by causing her to fall from the Driscoll Bridge in Woodbridge Township approximately 140 feet into the Raritan River on the afternoon of Feb. 16, 2010. According to the evidence at trial, he pushed or threw her from the front passenger window of his Dodge Caravan, which was parked on the southbound shoulder of the Garden State Parkway.
The infant’s mother, Vanetta Benjamin, had custody of her and had obtained a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem the same day the infant was killed. At the time Zara was abducted, she was in the care of her grandmother, Leno Benjamin, who shared an apartment in East Orange with her daughter and Zara. At about 4 p.m., Abdur-Raheem entered the apartment. The grandmother told Abdur-Raheem to leave, but he grabbed her arm and tried to take the baby. As the grandmother attempted to hold onto the baby, Abdur-Raheem knocked the grandmother down, choked her, and banged her head against the floor.
Abdur-Raheem took Zara, but the grandmother, who was 60 at the time, followed him outside and got in front of his vehicle in an attempt to stop him. Abdur-Raheem struck the grandmother with the Dodge Caravan and drove away with the baby. Surveillance video captured Abdur-Raheem running from the apartment with the baby and hitting the grandmother with the van.
After throwing Zara from the bridge, Abdur-Raheem went to Atlantic City to see his imam, his Islamic religious leader, and confessed to him what he had done. The imam drove him to the home of his parents, where he confessed to his parents as well.
Abdur-Raheem was arrested that night at his parents’ home in Winslow Township after his father called police shortly after 8 p.m. to report that Abdur-Raheem was at the house and had said that he threw the baby from the bridge. The State Police immediately commenced an intensive search for Zara. After his arrest, Abdur-Raheem gave multiple statements to police, admitting what he had done to his daughter.
The infant’s body remained missing until April 24, 2010 when it was found by surveyors on the south bank of the Raritan River, just east of the Route 35 Victory Bridge. DNA tests confirmed that it was Zara. An autopsy determined that she died from blunt force trauma and drowning.
Abdur-Raheem took the stand during the trial and claimed that Zara 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. The jury, by its verdict, rejected his defense.
The investigation was conducted by the New Jersey State Police, Division of Criminal Justice, East Orange Police Department, Winslow Township Police Department, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. Detectives Harry McDermott and Timothy P. Coyle were the lead detectives for the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit. Detective Kevin Coleman was the lead detective for the East Orange Police Department. Deputy Attorney General Fried was assisted at trial by those lead detectives, as well as the following members of the trial team from the Division of Criminal Justice: Detective Richard Aitken of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau and Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Kmieciak of the Appellate Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello provided early assistance in the investigation.