SANFORD, N.C. — Following a three-week investigation, a Sanford pastor is in jail charged with murdering his wife.
Melvin Bynum was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Marnita Bynum. He was denied bond Friday.
Investigators say Bynum strangled his wife of almost 19 years, stuffed her body in the trunk of a car and dumped the vehicle in Richmond County. Her body was found on Aug. 2.
Prosecutors told Judge Hunt Gwyn they probably will seek the death penalty for Bynum, who remains in the Richmond County Jail.
At a Friday morning news conference, Richmond County Sheriff Dale Furr said the victim's husband "has been a suspect since the very beginning" and that marital problems may have been a possible motive in the death.
Melvin Bynum filed for divorce June 18. The couple had been separated since late 2001, according to court records, although investigators believe they had been still living together in Aberdeen, said Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter.
The couple has three children.
A break in the investigation came Thursday afternoon, a day after Jacquelyn Carter, Marnita Bynum's mother, pleaded for cooperation at a news conference.
"That made a difference in getting people to come forward," Furr said.
At the close of Friday's initial court appearance, Carter leaned over to Melvin Bynum, who was clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, and said: "I forgive you, and I love you."
His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 2.
The sheriff didn't rule out the possibility Bynum acted with someone else or that more charges will be filed.
Furr said the investigation was hampered because the minister "appeared to have right much control over the people in church" and members didn't want to talk with authorities.
"[It was] out of fear of Melvin Bynum that a lot of people in the church would not talk with us," he said. "For three weeks, for almost 24 hours a day seven days a week, we have not stopped."
Investigators said Bynum, the pastor of Cry Out Loud Ministry, was a suspect from the beginning because he failed to cooperate with authorities and told church members his wife was home sick when she did not show up for church.
Moore County authorities arrested Bynum about 9:30 p.m. Thursday while he was traveling north on U.S. 421. They say he willingly went into custody and did not appear to be on the run.
Bynum was transferred to the Richmond County Jail after his arrest.