What to Know
- Nebiyu Ebrahim was sentenced to life for killing Jholie Moussa, a 16-year-old Fairfax County high school student.
- Ebrahim was her first boyfriend and repeatedly abused and stalked her, her family said. "He would apologize a lot but do the same thing."
- His defense attorney argued against a life sentence because Ebrahim committed to the crime as a juvenile.
A Virginia man who strangled his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend and hid her body when he was 17 has been sentenced to life in prison.
Nebiyu Ebrahim killed Jholie Moussa, a Mount Vernon High School student, in January 2018 after previously being convicted of assaulting her. He repeatedly abused and stalked her, her family said in court.
Moussa's family sobbed in Fairfax County on Wednesday as they described what her abusive boyfriend took from them.
"I felt like you ruined my life, but I'm not giving you the power anymore," Moussa's identical twin sister, Zhane Moussa, said before the sentence came down. She and her sister had never been apart for more than 12 hours.
"No one in this situation has to suffer but you. You think you won by ending my sister's life, but you are in for a rude awakening," she continued.
Ebrahim, now 19, apologized to Moussa's family and asked them to forgive him someday.
His defense attorney pointed to Supreme Court cases in arguing against a life sentence for Ebrahim, who killed Moussa when he was a juvenile.
"Children are constitutionally different from adults," the lawyer said. "They have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform."
Moussa was an upbeat, loving teen who hoped to attend NYU, her family said.
"Jholie did not deserve this. She was amazing. She was a lighthouse in a dark place," her aunt said.
Ebrahim was Moussa's first boyfriend, her sister said. They were always together, and she fell in love. But then he beat her, bullied her and called her a whore, her twin said.
"He would apologize a lot but do the same thing again," Zhane Moussa said in court.
In a chilling video confession, Ebrahim told police he put the teen girl in what he called an "MMA-type chokehold."
He was upset that he had been convicted of assaulting her by slapping her and once choking her to the point that she passed out. The assault led to Ebrahim's transfer to an alternative school, where he said he was unhappy.
Ebrahim pleaded guilty this summer and then considered withdrawing the plea.
Moussa left home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County on Jan. 12, 2018 after telling her twin she was going to a party in Norfolk, nearly 200 miles away. Her family reported her missing the next day, and the FBI joined the investigation four days later, on Jan. 17.
The day Moussa disappeared, she seemed distracted after school, Zhane Moussa said.
"She was doing my hair and then she stopped, for a good minute, to text some more. Then, out of nowhere, she was like, 'I gotta go, I gotta go!'" she said.
Moussa told her sister she needed to go out for a minute.
After she left, Zhane Moussa sent her a concerned text and got an odd response.
"She texted me that she was going to Norfolk," Zhane Moussa said. "And I'm, like, isn't that more than 3 hours away?"
Later that night, the girls' mother, Syreeta Steward, missed a call from her daughter. Then, she heard nothing. It wasn't like her.
"Normally, she would have responded back to me. If she calls me and I don't answer, she always follows it up with a text," Steward said.
They never heard from her again.
County police initially classified Moussa as a runaway juvenile and said there was no indication she was in danger. Steward said she knew her daughter hadn't run away.
Police found Moussa's body 14 days later, on Jan. 25, in Woodlawn Park.
Moussa agreed to meet Ebrahim in the park, police said. He described in great detail in a five-hour-long interview the night he killed her.
"You know, you're in a heat of passion, you're just, you're in a ... a blind rage," he told police.
"I started choking her out more and more to the point where it was like ... Like, I don't know what drove me to the point," he contintued.
Once Moussa lost consciousness and he realized she was dead, Ebrahim said he carried her body into the woods and covered it with leaves, never calling for help.
Hours later, he was in his neighborhood in the Mount Vernon area. He pulled the SIM card out of Moussa's cellphone, put it in a weighted bag and threw it into a pond with fountains. Police say he didn't want anyone to know the two had been on Snapchat the night Moussa disappeared.
Prosecutor Casey Lingan described Ebrahim as a repeat abuser.
"This was an abuser who felt that he was going to lose the person he was trying to control," Lingan said.