Jury in baby's bridge death hears from child's mom

August 29, 2012 - 8:35 PM

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Jurors in the murder trial of a man accused of throwing his 3-month-old daughter off a bridge heard testimony Wednesday from the baby's mother, who described their troubled relationship and discussed an emotional phone call she had with him a few months after he was arrested.

Venetta Benjamin testified for more than an hour at Shamsidden Abdur-Raheem's trial, The Star-Ledger newspaper (http://bit.ly/PutH9M) reported. The defendant did not look at Benjamin while she testified, and his lawyer did not cross-examine her.

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 had sole custody and left the baby in her 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 Raritan River. Her body was found several weeks later along the riverbank by passers-by.

Besides the murder count, the 24-year-old former Galloway Township resident is charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault and child endangerment. His trial is in its second week and was to continue Thursday.

During Benjamin's testimony, prosecutors played a taped conversation of the August 2010 phone call with Abdur-Raheem for jurors, who heard an angry Benjamin tell Abdur-Raheem, "You killed my baby." Benjamin said her phone rang as she was traveling south on the Garden State Parkway and approaching the Driscoll Bridge.

"My life is almost gone being here," Abdur-Raheem said to Benjamin. He later told her: "You're telling me I should spend the rest of my life in jail. That's cruel."

She responded with: "You should have thought about that before you killed our daughter. You killed her. You killed her."

Moments later, Abdur-Raheem told her: "I didn't expect you to act like this. I thought you had a different mindset and had found peace."

In the last part of the conversation played for the jury, Abdur-Raheem is heard telling Benjamin, "I hope you can forgive me for what happened." She asked him, "For what you did?" and he answered, "Yes."

Benjamin and Abdur-Raheem started dating in 2007, when they were students at Richard Stockton College in southern New Jersey. She became pregnant in early 2009 and gave birth to their daughter on Nov. 19, 2009.

Benjamin said Abdur-Raheem was with her when she gave birth and took her home from the hospital. In January 2010, she and Zara moved in with Abdur-Raheem in an apartment he rented in Galloway, but she moved out two weeks later and returned to her mother's home with the baby. Benjamin said she told Abdur-Raheem that he could visit his daughter only if she and another person were present, and that the visits had to take place at her mother's apartment.

"I was afraid to be by myself with him," she testified. "I was afraid for me and my daughter."

Abdur-Raheem wrote to Benjamin in a letter read to jurors last week that said he was sorry, but he partly blamed her for what happened, saying she cheated on him with her ex-boyfriend.

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

He said Benjamin 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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Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, http://www.nj.com/starledger