A Galloway Township man convicted of kidnapping his infant daughter and throwing her into the Raritan River was sentenced to life in prison for murder Wednesday.
Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem, 24, who grew up in Atlantic City, also received a consecutive 30-year sentence for kidnapping. He would have to serve about 86½ more years before he would be eligible for parole under the sentence imposed by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz in New Brunswick.
Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem, 3 months old, was at her maternal grandmother’s East Orange apartment Feb. 16, 2010, when her father forced his way inside the apartment. Leno Benjamin, then 60, told Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem to leave, but he grabbed the baby, knocking the woman down, choking her and banging her head against the floor, according to information at trial.
Surveillance video showed Abdur-Raheem running from the apartment with the baby, then hitting Benjamin with his car as she tried to stop him.
Abdur-Raheem then drove off onto a nearby entrance to the Garden State Parkway, pulled over and threw the baby from the Driscoll Bridge, about 20 miles from her grandmother’s home. According to evidence at the trial, he pushed or threw her from the front passenger window of his car, which was stopped on the parkway’s southbound shoulder.
After throwing the girl into the water, Abdur-Raheem drove to his spiritual adviser, Imam Amin Muhammad, at the Masjid Muhammad mosque in Atlantic City, where he confessed. Muhammad then drove Abdur-Raheem to his parents’ home in Winslow Township, where he told them the same story. Abdur-Raheem’s father then called police.
The girl’s body was found two months later by surveyors working near the southern bank of the Raritan in Sayreville, Middlesex County. They recognized the clothes she had been reportedly wearing at the time. DNA evidence confirmed it was her.
Abdur-Raheem testified at his trial that Zara fell on the floor and hit her head during the fight with Benjamin, and appeared dead when he threw her from the bridge.
The jury rejected that defense, finding him guilty of murder, kidnapping and endangering the welfare of a child Sept. 7 of this year, following a two-week trial. He also was found guilty of two counts of simple assault for the attack on Benjamin.
Abdur-Raheem and Zara’s mother, Vanetta Benjamin, were both Stockton College students at the time. Benjamin had full custody of their daughter, and had just taken out a restraining order the day before the killing, after Abdur-Raheem had made threats. He had not yet received the order when he took Zara.
At the time of the abduction it was questioned why it took three hours before an Amber Alert was issued that the girl had been taken.
“This defendant murdered a baby, stealing her away from those who loved her most, ending her innocent life in a horrifying act of violence,” Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a news release. “Justice demanded that he receive this sentence, which will keep him in prison the remainder of his life.”
Abdur-Raheem is a 2006 graduate of Atlantic City High School and was studying criminal justice at Stockton.
For sentencing purposes, life sentences are considered 75 years, of which he must serve at least 85 percents — or 63 years, nine months. The 30-year consecutive sentence adds a required 25½ years to that time. He has already served two years and almost nine months.
“This prison sentence closes the book on a very tragic case of domestic violence,” Division of Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor said in a news release, commending all involved in getting the guilty verdict.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow Lynda Cohen on Twitter @LyndaCohen