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

July 10, 1995

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

A tribunal ruled Mohammed I. Abequa’s crime was ``of a second degree because we did not find any substantial evidence that it was a premeditated murder,″ Judge Abdul-Rahman Tawfig told a crowded courtroom.

Abequa was sentenced to 15 years for the murder of his wife, Nihal Abequa, 40, and an additional year for the kidnappings. 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 or mopping floors.

His two sisters burst into tears as the defendant, wearing a blue uniform and an Arab headdress, stood quietly in the dock bending his head. He broke down as the judge read a summary of the crimes.

Abequa, 47, told The Associated Press in an interview in his prison cell last year that he confessed to police interrogators that he strangled his estranged wife at her New Parsippany-Troy Hills, N.J., apartment after an argument over custody of their two 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.

Prosecutor Khaled Darweesh has pressed for a first-degree murder conviction, which would have carried the death penalty. Darweesh argued that Abequa, a Jordanian-born naturalized American citizen, had planned to kill his wife and take their two children, Lisa, 7, and Sami, 4, to his native Jordan.

Abequa fled to Jordan with the children after the July 4 killing and was arrested in Amman on July 20 at the request of U.S. authorities.

Jordan sent back the children to their maternal aunt, but refused an American extradition request for Abequa and insisted on trying him here.

Morris County, N.J., Prosecutor W. Michael Murphy Jr. said that Abequa received a fair trial, but that he had expected a harsher sentence.

``My impression is that a more substantial sentence would be appropriate in this case,″ Murphy said. ``I mean by that a longer sentence.″

He said Abequa would have received at least 30 years had he been tried in the United States.

Adnan Abequa, Abequa’s younger brother, said he wasn’t surprised. ``I’d expected such a sentence,″ he said.

The prosecution, using the testimony of an American travel agent, contended Abequa had booked passage for himself and the two children the day before the killing. That made the murder premeditated, the prosecution said.

Defense lawyer Massoud Khalifeh said Abequa had testified that his wife prevented him from seeing the children after a 1993 separation and that he worried she was not giving them proper care.

There was unusually tight security outside the courthouse, located in a commercial district of the Jordanian capital.

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