Sheriff: Minister 'Got Away With Murder'
Posted January 4, 2007 6:59 p.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2007 8:45 a.m. EST
Melvin Bynum, 45, pleaded guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of 40-year-old Marnita Bynum, his wife of 19 years.
Authorities found the body of Marnita Bynum, a substitute teacher, in the trunk of her Chrysler Sebring convertible, which had been abandoned on a rural road north of Hamlet on Aug. 2, 2004.
Under his plea agreement, Bynum was sentenced to 64 to 86 months in prison. He has already spent more than two years behind bars, having been held in the Richmond County Jail since his arrest in September 2004.
Judge David Lee on Tuesday rejected a plea agreement that would have carried a sentence of no more than five years in prison. Lee said he wanted more discretion in sentencing after listening to testimony from Marnita Bynum's relatives about the impact of her slaying.
Bynum, the pastor of Cry Out Loud Ministries in Sanford, originally was charged with first-degree murder in the case and could have faced the death penalty if convicted on that charge.
Richmond County Sheriff Dale Furr, who led the investigation into Marnita Bynum's death, said he protested the plea deal when prosecutors informed him about it earlier this week. Investigators had compiled enough evidence to convict Bynum of first-degree murder, he said.
"I strongly opposed that plan," Furr said of the plea deal. “(It says) that you can possibly get away with murder. That's exactly what happened.”
The prosecutor handling the case was concerned that a key witness refused to testify against Bynum, Furr said. However, he said he believes the witness would have testified if she faced charges in the case.
“I think she possibly could have and would have been charged as an accessory,” Furr said.
Richmond County District Attorney Michael Parker issued a statement late Tuesday defending the decision to offer Bynum a deal in the case.
"Although a massive investigation was conducted into Ms. Bynum's death, neither the sheriff's office nor the state can manufacture evidence. We can only present what is found," the statement said. "The defendant's plea to voluntary manslaughter is consistent with the facts provable by the state, given the circumstances surrounding Marnita's death."
Peg Dorer of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys said it's not necessarily what someone thinks, but what can be proven in court. Some cases lack credible witnesses or physical evidence, she said.
“Sometimes cases 'go south.' At that point, DAs must salvage what they can,” Dorer said.
Furr said he realizes the case is the DA's to prosecute, but he said investigators should have gotten a chance to make the case against Bynum. That chance has passed.
"It's over with,” he said.