New Jersey

Suspect indicted on murder, weapon possession charges in death of NJ lawmaker

Eunice Dwumfour was shot and killed right outside her home in February. The suspect arrested in her murder was linked to the church that she attended, but how well the two knew each other was not clear

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The man accused of killing a New Jersey councilwoman right outside her home as her family was waiting inside was indicted on murder and other charges, the prosecutor's office said.

Rashid Bynum, a 28-year-old from Portsmouth, Virginia, faces first-degree murder and second-degree weapon possession charges in the killing of Eunice Dwumfour, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said Wednesday.

It took law enforcement nearly four months to make an arrest the Feb. 1 death of Dwumfour, who served on the Sayreville Borough Council. Bynum was finally nabbed by police on May 30. Investigators have said Bynum knew Dwumfour, but did not detail how well they knew each other. The only connection between the two police have is that the suspect was linked to the church Dwumfour attended.

Investigators traced Bynum's travels from his cellphone and vehicle location data from the night of the killing, Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone said at a news conference after the arrested was made, citing surveillance video and E-ZPass records. He also matched the description of the gunman given by neighbors in Sayreville, where Dwumfour had served on the council for about a year.

Bynum was taken into custody outside a residence in Chesapeake, Virginia, without incident. Attorney information was not clear for Bynum.

According to a family attorney, neither Dwumfour's parents nor sibling recognized the name or picture of the suspect. Dwumfour, who grew up in Newark, did live in Virginia at one point, and family lawyer John Wisniewski said Bynum had previously lived in Sayreville. But beyond that, he did not know the nature of their relationship and the prosecutor declined to discuss a possible motive.

While the family welcomed news the arrest, they have “even more questions today than there were before,” Wisniewski said. Her new husband, Peter Ezechukwu, is no longer in the U.S.

“We have an alleged murderer in custody in Virginia, but now they are trying to also understand the relationship, how this person came to target Eunice, what was the rationale,” Wisniewski said. "They are trying to also understand the relationship, how this person came to target Eunice. What was the rationale?...Maybe [prosecutors] know, but they certainly they haven’t shared that. And that is something that is vexing the family right now."

Dwumfour was a pastor in a prosperity gospel church, Champions Royal Assembly, that is based in Nigeria, and she got married there in November to a fellow pastor from Abuja. She was also an officer of a related entity, the Fire Congress Fellowship, that has a branch in Virginia. Bynum was listed in her cellphone contacts under that group’s acronym.

"A search of the victim's phone revealed Bynum as a contact with the acronym FCF," said Ciccone.

Court records and tax filings suggest that church finances in the U.S. were tight. Dwumfour had been named in a series of landlord-tenant disputes in Newark dating from 2017 to 2020 involving the fellowship, which had seen its income drop from about $250,000 in 2017 to just $350 in 2020.

Through the months before the arrest was made, the councilwomen's family members expressed their frustration. Dwumfour's daughter described what she heard just outside her window the night of the shooting, as the family was waiting inside for the mother to finish parking her vehicle.

"We're waiting for my mom to look for a parking space, and then she was taking a lot of time so we started calling her over and over again, but it wouldn't pick up. And then we heard gunshots and we started calling the police," Nicole Teliano told the AP.

"It's so painful. It's so painful. Every day by day, we think about her. We cry, I cry every day by day," her husband, Peter Ezechukwu, previously said.

A heart-felt plea for justice from the family of the councilwoman killed in New Jersey. Brian Thompson reports.

In April, Sayreville's mayor announced her decision not to run for re-election, in part because of racial threats she's received regarding her colleague and personal friend, Dwumfour. That's why she cited a hate letter sent to her following Dwumfour's death as a reason she would be dropping out of public service, at least for now.

Dwumfour, a Republican, was elected to her first three-year term in 2021, when she ousted a Democratic incumbent. Colleagues recalled her as a soft-spoken devout Christian who could maintain her composure in contentious situations.

Regarding a state takeover of the probe, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said "respectfully, no comment will be made regarding an ongoing investigation." There's been no word from the attorney general.

Associated Press reporter Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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