Eunice Dwumfour murder hearing offers first look at defense strategy

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NEW BRUNSWICK – The attorney representing Rashid Ali Bynum, the Virginia man charged with fatally shooting Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour earlier this year, plans to mount a vigorous defense for his client.

During a brief court hearing Monday, Newark-based attorney Thomas Ashley, who was captain of the Rutgers basketball team in the mid-1960s, said he intends to challenge all the information the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office obtained through search warrants and communications data warrants issued in the case.

Ashley indicated there were at least two search warrants and 25 to 30 communications data warrants, which were used to obtain telephone and toll billing records, the numbers dialed on a telephone and cellphone location information.

Ashley said he also found some discrepancies with the grand jury presentation, which he also plans to challenge.

Rashid Ali Bynum in court on Monday.
Rashid Ali Bynum in court on Monday.

Ashley, whose co-counsel is attorney Michael Ashley, said he has four pages of motions he plans to file. Due to an upcoming murder trial and another trial in December, both in Essex County, Ashley requested 90 days before the next court hearing for the Bynum case.

Assistant Prosecutor Amber Gibbs, whose co-counsel is Assistant Prosecutor Kristen Pridgen, said the prosecution had filed a motion for a buccal swab from Bynum to collect DNA for testing. Detectives took the cheek swab from Bynum in a separate room at the end of Monday's court session.

Ashley requested more time to file motions. With his other pending trials, he wanted to ensure he has enough time to prepare so Bynum gets a fair trial.

Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Joseph Paone, noting the defense has had the 6,000 pages of discovery since Bynum's arraignment in August, said that was adequate time for an experienced counsel to review it.

Gibbs said she didn't want to see the case delayed until February.

Mary Dwumfour, left, Eunice's mother, stares at Rashid Ali Bynum during his August arraignment and detention hearing in New Brunswick. To her right is Eunice's husband, Peter Ezechukwu.
Mary Dwumfour, left, Eunice's mother, stares at Rashid Ali Bynum during his August arraignment and detention hearing in New Brunswick. To her right is Eunice's husband, Peter Ezechukwu.

"We need to come back in February and move this case forward for the family, for the public," Gibbs said.

Paone set a Dec. 7 deadline for the defense to file its motions and briefs and the prosecution has until Jan. 4 to file a response. The next court date is scheduled for early February.

Dwumfour's family, including her parents, Mary and Prince Dwumfour, her husband, Ezechukwu Peter Akwue, and her two siblings, joined by the parents' attorney and former Assemblyman John Wisniewski, sat in the last row of the courtroom for the 12-minute hearing.

More: Man accused of killing Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour Googled church, guns: cops

Paone instructed the sheriff's officers not to seat the family behind Bynum due to an incident during Byrum's August detention hearing when Mary Dwumfour allegedly threw a water bottle toward Bynum as he was being led from the courtroom. She was charged with a disorderly persons offense that is still pending in New Brunswick Municipal Court, Wisniewski said.

After Monday's hearing Wisniewski said this has been a difficult time for the family and they have chosen not to comment because they don't want to say anything that might jeopardize the case.

"They are also very reluctant to relive the tragedy they went through almost a year ago now. They just want to see justice done," Wisniewski said.

Around 7:22 p.m. Feb. 1, Dwumfour, 30, a Republican and Sayreville's first Black elected official, was shot 14 times, in what prosecutors called an "ambush" inside her car outside her home in the area of Check Avenue in the Parlin section of the borough shortly after her daughter had left the vehicle. Dwumfour was pronounced dead at the scene.

Former Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour
Former Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour

Police received several 911 calls about the shooting and surveillance video captured a suspect fleeing the scene in the area of Ernston Road. Witnesses reported seeing a thin man, about 6 feet tall with ear-length braids or dreadlocks and a suspicious white Hyundai on Gondek Drive minutes before the shooting. Video footage also showed a person walking from the vehicle on Gondek Drive toward Check Avenue just before the shooting and firing into Dwumfour's vehicle.

Bynum was arrested on May 30 in Virginia and charged with Dwumfour's killing. That same day a search warrant was executed at a Virginia address and a Glock 19 handgun was found in a black fanny pack belonging to Bynum.

He was extradited to New Jersey in July and in August Bynum was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose in Dwumfour's killing.

Court papers indicate a cellphone associated with Bynum traveled from Virginia to New Jersey and back to Virginia on the day of the shooting and the phone was in the area of Gondek Drive and Ernston Road just before the shooting. The investigation also found Bynum's cellphone traveled through E-ZPass locations in Newark, Woodbridge and Linden at the same time as a white Hyundai Elantra with a Virginia license plate, a vehicle Bynum allegedly rented the day before the shooting.

Dwumfour, a pastor at her church, and Bynum apparently knew each other after meeting years earlier when she was recruiting people to join the church. He was recruited in Virginia and brought up to New Jersey where he lived with Dwumfour, her daughter and other church members in Skytop Gardens and received religious guidance. When it became apparent to church members he was not following religious practices, he was asked to return to Virginia.

Court papers also show Bynum was listed as a contact in Dwumfour's cellphone, in association with Fire Congress Fellowship, a church with which Dwumfour and Bynum had both previously been associated with. On the day of the killing Bynum alleged conducted an internet search on Sayreville, particularly the Parlin section.


Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on Eunice Dwumfour murder hearing offers first look at defense strategy