AMMAN, May 3 -- Mohammad Abequa, a U.S. citizen born in Jordan, confessed Wednesday in an Amman courtroom that he strangled his estranged wife in her New Jersey apartment in July. Abequa, 46, said he killed his 40-year-old Turkish-born wife, Nihal, to protect his honor, an argument accepted by Jordanian courts as a reason for a reduced sentence. He is charged with murdering his wife, whose body was found July 4 in the apartment in the community of Parsippany Troy-Hills, as well as kidnapping his children, Lisa, 6, and Sami, 3. Abequa brought the children to Jordan after his wife's death. In what was seen as an effort to get a reduced sentence, Abequa told a crowded courtroom that he lost his temper when his wife told him that the man leaving her house as he arrived was her boyfriend. 'I asked her who the man was, and she told me it was her boyfriend and showed me a new tattoo on her thigh that he gave her,' Abequa said. Jordanian law allows sentences to be reduced to one to three years imprisonment in 'honor killing' cases involving men who kill a wife or sister suspected of committing adultery or engaging in premarital sex. If Abequa is found guilty of murder, he could face the death penalty unless he convinces the court that it was an 'honor killing.' But judicial sources doubted Abequa would receive a reduced sentence because the highly publicized case has been the focus of U.S. interest and personal attention from Jordan's King Hussein.
Jordan refused to extradite Abequa to the United States because there was no extradition treaty between the two countries at the time. The United States and Jordan signed an extradition treaty last month. King Hussein personally intervened last year to allow the children to leave Jordan to live with their maternal aunt, Nesime Dokur, in the United States. Abequa also claimed that he had been suffering from 'nervous disorders' since he served in the Jordanian army in the 1967 Arab- Israeli war and the 1970 civil war in the kingdom. The court denied a defense request to let Abequa undergo a psychiatric evaluation. 'I lost control and next thing I knew I was ontop of her with my hands at her throat. Life left her body in a matter of minutes,' he told the criminal court's three-man judicial panel. There is no jury in the case. Abequa said he grabbed his children, who were sleeping in their bedroom at the time, and took them back to his home in Nashville, Tenn. He said he and the children flew to London and Amsterdam to catch a flight to Amman on July 5, one day after the killing. In another effort to discredit his estranged wife in front of the traditionally conservative Jordanian court, Abequa claimed he saw only alcoholic drinks in her refrigerator, 'with no milk or juice for the children.' He broke into tears each time he mentioned the children during his testimony, and his mother, Samiha, also began to weep as she sat in the heavily guarded courtroom. The court adjourned until May 17, when seven character witnesses are scheduled to testify.