Monday, 15 March 2021 16:19

Richmond County murder case featured on Oxygen's 'Killer Motive'

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Maj. Jay Childers, investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, recalls details from a 2004 murder case that involved three counties for the show "Killer Motive" on the Oxygen channel. Maj. Jay Childers, investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, recalls details from a 2004 murder case that involved three counties for the show "Killer Motive" on the Oxygen channel. Screenshot -

ROCKINGHAM — An investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was recently featured on a true crime show to discuss a 2004 murder case.

Maj. Jay Childers was interviewed this past summer for the Oxygen channel television show “Killer Motive” regarding the death of Marnita Bynum.

The episode, “Savior or Sinner?” aired this weekend and is viewable on the channel’s website.

Childers said that while has been interviewed by news stations before, this was his first time on a television show — with a full crew of around 25 people.

His scenes were shot over the course of several days and Childers said he had to air out his suit every night to wear again for continuity.

Although he was concerned as to how the final story would turn out, Childers said the episode was “pretty much on point.”

Childers, who now heads the RSCO Investigation Division, was the detective assigned to the case. At the time, there were only five investigators; now there are 16.

The three expanded folders of the case file were sitting in his office window Monday afternoon.

He remembers being called to the scene after patrol deputies found an abandoned car on E.V. Hogan Drive, off of N.C. 177 near Marston, in the late-night/early morning hours of Aug. 2, 2004.

Deputies tried to look up who the car belonged to, but at the time, Childers said, the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles’ system was down.

A strong odor was detected coming from the trunk and after obtaining a warrant — and calling a locksmith — investigators found Marnita Bynum’s body with a belt tied around her neck.

The official cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation by strangulation.

Once the body and car registration were identified, investigators spoke with her husband, Melvin Lamont Bynum, who was a preacher at a Sanford church.

Childers said the couple and their sons had not long before moved from their Lee County home to a smaller house in Pine Bluff, in Moore County.

“They moved from this huge, split-level house in Sanford to this little shoebox house,” Childers said.

Melvin Bynum told investigators that his wife had gone out for a hair appointment around midnight on Friday, returned about an hour later with nothing being done, and had gone shopping Saturday morning, according to Childers. That was the last time the preacher said he saw his wife.

When the car and her body were found late Saturday/early Sunday, Childers said they found divorce papers in the front seat. The divorce was slated to be finalized days after she was found dead.

The crime scene was processed by Childers’ wife, Terri, who recently retired from the sheriff’s office.

Melvin Bynum secured a lawyer for himself and sons, and the church’s congregation was uncooperative, Childers recalled. Most of the information investigators gathered was from Marnita Bynum’s family and friends, who said the husband was controlling.

The Bynums’ home and the church were both searched, but no sign of struggle was found at either location.

The only piece of physical evidence detectives had, the belt, contained only Martia Bynum’s DNA.

There was one witness, Childers said, who was able to give a description close to that of Melvin Bynum’s — approximate height and weight, wavy hair — but could not make out any facial details because of the lack of light.

Childers said detectives from Richmond County worked “hand-in-hand” with investigators from the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.

“For about two weeks, roughly, it was seven days a week, literally, 18-plus hours a day,” Childers said, with investigators interviewing people all over Eastern North Carolina.

“They helped a lot,” he said, speaking of Moore County detectives.

After ruling out multiple suspects — including the church’s “armor bearers,” whom Childers described as the pastor’s bodyguards — investigators discovered Melvin Bynum had a cellphone, which he had told detectives he didn’t have. It was registered in one of their sons’ names.

Detectives were able to obtain the phone records and track down the number of a woman alleged to be one of Melvin Bynum’s girlfriends, who eventually confessed to picking him up in Richmond County the night in question.

Investigators were also able to triangulate the location from where the call had been made to within a few hundred yards of where the car was found.

Melvin Bynum was arrested Aug. 18 and charged with his wife’s murder.

However, the case never went to trial.

Childers said the defendant took an Alford plea and received a reduced charge of manslaughter.

An Alford Plea is when a defendant does not admit guilt, but does acknowledge that prosecutors have enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It stems from a 1963 murder case in North Carolina.

Records with the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction show Melvin Bynum was convicted January 3, 2007 and served less than three years, as he was released Dec. 15, 2009.

Melvin Bynum came to the sheriff’s office after his release to reclaim several items that were seized during the investigation, but didn’t have much to say, Childers recalled.

Childers, who retires in September after 30 years in law enforcement, said the case “always felt unfinished” and there was never “full closure,” as investigators were unable to determine where the murder actually took place.

“I go by that house numerous times going to Moore County and I always wonder, ‘Did he kill her there?’”