Driver testifies in baby death

He said he saw Shamsidden Abdur-Raheem dump something off a bridge. It was a child.

Posted: August 29, 2012

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A motorist who saw a man dump what he thought was trash off a Garden State Parkway bridge into the Raritan River said he quickly contacted state police after learning the next day that a baby had been thrown off the bridge.

Michael Stephens of Hazlet testified Tuesday at the trial of Shamsidden Abdur-Raheem, who is charged with murder in the death of his 3-month-old daughter. He also took investigators to the site where he saw the van parked and where he saw something go into the river, Stephens said.

Prosecutors say Abdur-Raheem abducted Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem from her maternal grandmother's East Orange apartment in February 2010. The girl's mother, Venetta Benjamin, had sole custody of her and had left her in the grandmother's care while she sought a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem.

After taking the baby, prosecutors say, Abdur-Raheem parked his van on the Driscoll Bridge and threw or dropped her into the river. Zara's body was found weeks later along the riverbank.

Besides the murder count, the 24-year-old former Galloway Township resident is charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and child endangerment. He was arrested at his father's home in Winslow.

His trial is in its second week and was to continue Wednesday.

Jurors also heard Tuesday from the baby's 62-year-old grandmother, Leno Benjamin, who described her confrontation with Abdur-Raheem in her apartment.

Benjamin said she told Abdur-Raheem to leave, but he told her "y'all have my child" and grabbed the baby, who was in Benjamin's arms. The grandmother said Abdur-Raheem tugged on her arm and pushed her to the ground, then hit her head on the floor until she released the baby.

Abdur-Raheem took the infant and left the apartment, Benjamin testified. She said she tried to get to Zara, who had been placed in the back of his van.

Benjamin said she stood in front of the van and told Abdur-Raheem, "You're not leaving until police come." However, she said, Abdur-Raheem hit her with the van, carrying her on the hood for several feet.

She ran back to her apartment and called police, Benjamin said.

Abdur-Raheem wrote to the baby's mother in a letter read to jurors last week that he was sorry, but he blamed her partly for what happened, saying she cheated on him.

"You did cause and have a lot to do with what happened," Abdur-Raheem said in the 10-page letter.

He said the baby's mother should look at "how your lies led up to all of this."

"What I ask is that you change your heart and mind and have forgiveness for me. . . . I'm sorry," he wrote.

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