WAHPETON, N.D. — A family member and a neighbor of a man accused of killing his nephew in a fight at a Wahpeton apartment are speaking out in his defense, describing the death as accidental.
James Bynaum, 61, was being held in the Richland County Jail Monday night, Dec. 2, and faces a charge of negligent homicide in connection to the death of Oscar Bynaum, his 42-year-old nephew. If convicted, he could spend up to 5 years in prison.
According to an affidavit for the criminal case, James and Oscar Bynaum got into an argument at their apartment in the early morning hours of Friday, Nov. 29. Oscar started punching holes in walls and eventually got into a fight with James.
Sophia Bynaum says she and her family are shocked that her uncle is accused of killing her brother and that her uncle is devastated by his nephew's death.
“It's tearing him apart,” she explained in a phone call Monday. “Why did it happen like this? (It’s) just a terrible, terrible accident.”
Tracey Desjarlais, whose mother lives across the hall from the Bynaums' apartment, said Oscar jumped on James after they had returned to their apartment from Thanksgiving dinner at a relative’s home. The two had been drinking, she said.
“Oscar doesn't drink well; he doesn't play well,” Desjarlais said.
Sophia Bynaum said James is several inches shorter than Oscar and relies on a wheelchair or walker to get around. Desjarlais believes James feared for his life.
"If you saw Oscar and you saw James, you would know this man was defending himself," she said.
During the fight, James put Oscar into a chokehold until he went limp and then left the apartment without checking on his well-being, according to court documents. Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said James left to calm down at the relative's home where he and his nephew had Thanksgiving dinner.
Thorsteinson said James told police that Oscar was still breathing when he left. When he and the relative went back to the apartment 12 hours later, they found Oscar dead in the bedroom.
Family members said James Bynaum referred to Oscar as his favorite nephew and that he had come to North Dakota from Texas to help Oscar get his problems with alcohol under control. James thought his nephew’s problems were getting worse because the father of two was in a bitter child custody dispute.
Bynaum made his initial appearance in Richland County on Monday, where his bail was set at $10,000 after prosecutors requested that the judge set it at $500,000.
Bynaum, who was brought into court in a wheelchair, declined to comment on the charge when WDAY attempted to visit him at the Richland County Jail.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Oscar's family to get his body back to Texas and plan a funeral.