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Jordanian Who Killed American Wife to Perform 12 Years of Hard Labor

July 10, 1995

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ A Jordanian-American was ordered Monday to perform 12 years of hard labor for strangling his estranged wife in New Jersey last summer, then kidnapping their two children to Jordan.

Mohammed I. Abequa’s crime was ``of a second degree because we did not find any substantial evidence that it was a premeditated murder,″ said Judge Abdul-Rahman Tawfiq, explaining the ruling of a Criminal Court tribunal.

Abequa, who was born in Jordan and became a naturalized American citizen, was sentenced to 15 years for the murder of his wife, Nihal Abequa, 40, and an additional year for kidnapping the children, Lisa, 7, and Sami, 4.

Under Jordanian law, a year’s sentence brings only nine months behind bars, so his term is 12 years. His hard labor will consist of duties such as construction work, cleaning toilets and mopping floors.

Defense lawyer Massoud Khalifeh said his client planned to appeal.

``We had expected a reduced sentence of at most 10 years, taking into consideration that the murder was not premeditated and that we presented enough evidence to that effect,″ he said.

Abequa’s two sisters burst into tears as the sentence was read. The defendant, wearing a blue uniform and an Arab headdress, stood quietly, bowing his head.

He broke down once during the 25-minute session, when the judge described how Abequa had strangled his wife at her home in New Parsippany-Troy Hills, N.J., on July 4, 1994, then stuffed her under a bed.

Prosecutor Khaled Darweesh has pressed for a first-degree murder conviction, which would have carried the death penalty.

Darweesh argued that the murder was premeditated, offering the testimony of an American travel agent who said Abequa booked passage to Jordan for him and the children the day before the murder.

Abequa was arrested in Amman on July 20 at the request of U.S. authorities. Jordan sent the children back to their maternal aunt in the United States, but refused to extradite Abequa.

Morris County, N.J., prosecutor W. Michael Murphy, Jr., who traveled to Jordan for the sentencing, told reporters that Abequa received a fair trial, but that he had expected a harsher sentence.

He said that if Abequa had been tried in the United States, he would have received at least a 30-year sentence.

Abequa, 47, told The Associated Press in a prison interview last year that he had confessed to killing his estranged wife after an argument over custody of their children.

But he pleaded innocent to charges of premeditated murder when the trial began April 1. He said he killed his wife during a fit of rage after she showed him a tattoo her alleged lover had put on her leg.

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