Judge rejects pastor’s plea

ROCKINGHAM — A superior court judge rejected a plea Tuesday from Melvin Bynum in the 2004 murder of his wife.

Bynum, the pastor at a Sanford church, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Marnita Bynum. She was found strangled Aug. 2, 2004, in Richmond County.

Bynum pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea agreement. But Judge David Lee said in court Tuesday afternoon that he is “not in the position to accept the plea as it is currently written,” after hearing tearful statements from Marnita Bynum’s relatives and reviewing the facts in the case.

Lee said that as a judge, he must consider what is an appropriate punishment and look at the sentence and the effect it would have on others who committed similar crimes.

Under the plea agreement, Bynum would have been sentenced to about five years in prison with credit for time served. Bynum has been in prison since his arrest in late August 2004. If the case were to go to trial, he could face the death penalty.

Jacquelyn Carter, Marnita Bynum’s mother, asked the judge to prosecute Bynum to the fullest extent of the law. Carter said her life has been a “living hell” since she lost her only child. She choked back tears as she described in court how much she loved her daughter.

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“I want to know that her memory is not messed up,” Carter said. “I want some peace. I want some closure.”

One of Bynum’s lawyers said in court that he thought the deal was fair.

The judge met with lawyers in closed session to discuss how to proceed, but no decision was announced. It was unclear late Tuesday whether another plea agreement had been reached.

District Attorney Michael Parker declined to comment, saying state law prohibited him from discussing a pending case.

The body of Marnita Bynum was found in the trunk of her Chrysler Sebring, which was parked on the side of E.V. Hogan Drive off N.C. 177 about four miles north of Hamlet in Richmond County. She was 40 years old and worked as a substitute teacher at West Lee Middle School.

Melvin Bynum was the pastor of Cry Out Loud Ministries in Sanford. He filed for divorce on June 18, 2004. The couple had been separated since October 2001.

Carter said in court that her daughter told her a year before her death that “this was going to happen.”

The couple was happy in the beginning of their relationship, Carter said, but had been having marital troubles before Marnita Bynum died.

They had two sons, Carter said. She described her daughter as a caring person who had a deep faith in God.

“She made a difference in our family,” Carter said. “She loved her boys and she loved Melvin.”

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This post was last updated: Jan. 3, 2007