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Jury finds NJ dad guilty in baby bridge death

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) – A jury has found a father guilty of murder for throwing his infant daughter off a New Jersey bridge into a river, in a case that prompted an overhaul of the state’s rules on issuing missing children alerts.

Shamsidden Abdur-Raheem, 24, of Galloway Township, wearing a suit and glasses, had his head down and showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read in state superior court in New Brunswick on Friday.

The child’s mother, Venetta Benjamin, who testified during the trial and was present for the verdict, let out a quick gasp of air, tears springing from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks as the verdict was announced.

Abdur-Raheem admitted during the trial that he threw the 3-month-old off a Garden State Parkway bridge into the Raritan River on Feb. 16, 2010. But he claimed he believed the child was already dead from injuries she suffered during a fight with the baby’s grandmother.

The body of Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem was found on the shore of the Raritan two months later by passers-by.

The jury found Abdur-Raheem guilty of kidnapping the child, but not guilty of attempted murder of the baby’s maternal grandmother, Leno Benjamin, during the process. The grandmother had been caring for the infant at her East Orange apartment while the child’s mother was obtaining a restraining order against him. They convicted him on lesser charges related to Abdur-Raheem assaulting the grandmother during the taking of the child.

Abdur-Raheem testified that during a struggle with the child’s grandmother, the baby fell and hit her head.

But a state forensic anthropologist testified the skull fractures found on the baby were made at or about the time of death and that they were caused by a significant fall and not one of four feet or less.

During his testimony, Abdur-Raheem said he placed the infant in a knapsack, and pushed her out the passenger side window and off the Driscoll Bridge, into the river more than 100 feet below.

“I tossed my daughter off the bridge,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

Family members said at the time of the baby’s disappearance that the couple, who never married, had a bumpy relationship since they started dating as freshmen at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Jury deliberations had begun Tuesday. Abdur-Raheem faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced Nov. 7.

The case prompted changes to the state’s procedures for issuing Amber Alerts, information about a missing child broadcast on television and radio stations and posted on electronic highway message boards.

No alert was issued between the time Zara went missing and Abdur-Raheem was arrested because state law then discouraged use of the alerts in suspected domestic cases. Now, state police issue the alerts even in cases of suspected parental involvement in a child’s abduction.

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