When authorities want to check on the whereabouts of Warrensburg, Mo., murder defendant Ziyad Abid, they can get a GPS reading from the electronic monitoring device attached to his ankle.
That, or they could go down the hall and check his jail cell.
Because even though Abid, 24, posted bond more than two months ago — and he’s wearing the required ankle bracelet as a condition of that bond — the judge in the case won’t let him out of jail.
Abid, a Saudi national who had been attending the University of Central Missouri, is charged with paying a former bouncer to kill a Warrensburg bar owner.
Johnson County, Mo., Circuit Judge Michael Wagner has acknowledged he may be violating the Missouri Constitution, but he said in court that he is bothered that the government of Saudi Arabia provided Abid’s bond money.
That would be $2 millioncash
“He (Abid) may not be part of the royal family, but he’s getting the royal treatment,” said Jim Leger, a Houston attorney who works for the Saudi government and helped arrange bond and legal representation for Abid.
Diane Whitworth, mother of victim William Blaine Whitworth, said the situation reveals a disconnect between state courts and federal immigration policy. If Abid, who no longer has a student visa, were to be released, he could seek to be deported back to Saudi Arabia. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may not care about any state charges, she said.
“His lawyers say he wants to stay and fight these charges, but we don’t know that,” Diane Whitworth said Friday.
Still, Missouri law says that once a bond is set and somebody comes up with the dough, a defendant must be released.
Defense attorney Patrick Peters filed a writ with the Missouri Court of Appeals on May 22 saying Abid has met conditions but Wagner “has illegally set no bail.” Peters also wrote that Wagner’s actions indicate a prejudice or bias against Abid because of his ethnicity.
Even Johnson County Prosecuting Attorney Lynn Stoppy agrees that Abid should be granted bond.
But according to a court document, Wagner said he will release Abid only when a higher court tells him to. By Monday, Wagner must respond to the appeals court.
Abid, who was studying aviation before his arrest, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Whitworth, 25, who was shot and killed Sept. 1, 2012, in the driveway of his home in Warrensburg.
Four days after the murder, authorities arrested Reginald Singletary Jr., a former bouncer at one of the two bars Whitworth operated in downtown Warrensburg.
Singletary, 28, a graduate of Winnetonka High School who later played football at Missouri Valley College, told authorities that Abid paid him to kill Whitworth.
Peters says that wasn’t the only story Singletary told detectives.
According to Peters, Singletary first said that a gang hired him to kill Whitworth, then changed the story to the Mafia. He then said it was Abid, who had been his roommate.
“There is no physical evidence that my client was involved in this,” Peters said. “No DNA, no exchange of money. The only thing that ties Ziyad Abid to the killing of Blaine Whitworth is a statement by the confessed murderer.”
Singletary is also in the county jail in Warrensburg. His bond is $1 million.
Abid’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Initially, Circuit Judge Jacqueline Cook ruled no bond for Abid. She said he was a flight risk because he was a foreigner unlawfully in the country. His student visa already had been yanked because he wasn’t attending classes.
But defense attorneys challenged Cook’s ruling. Abid was not charged with a capital crime. Nor was there evidence that Abid was a public threat or flight risk.
On Nov. 30, Cook relented, with conditions. She demanded that Abid surrender his passport and wear a monitoring bracelet. But most important, she set the bond high enough to make it unlikely that Abid could come up with the money.
The rural Missouri judge didn’t figure on Abid getting a helping hand from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
But it also would not be her problem. Cook retired the same day and passed the case to Wagner.
Abid’s lawyers then began trying to reduce the bond, arguing that coming up with the 10 percent that bonding companies require would bankrupt the family. Abid’s father worked the phones, finally persuading the Saudi government to provide the entire $2 million.
On April 5, the money was wired to a Johnson County Circuit Court bank account. But after earlier saying the cash would be sufficient, Wagner, citing the involvement of the Saudi government, changed his mind and ordered the sheriff not to release Abid, whose parents had flown to the U.S. and were in the courtroom.
“Judge, if I just heard you correctly, you have just set no bond for my client even though that issue has been litigated,” Peters, a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor, said to Wagner. “So, just want to make sure that what I heard this court say is that despite the law, despite Judge Cook’s order, despite the representation by the prosecutor and defense counsel, you have set no bond in this case.”
“That is correct, counsel,” Wagner replied.
“I think that’s all the record I need, your honor,” Peters told the judge.
Court documents also have Wagner saying that the Saudi cash added inconsistencies and ambiguity to the case.
“It’s obvious the Saudi government did not wish to give that money to a bondsman,” Wagner said.
But with 47,000 Saudi college students in the country, it happens often. Some of them are going to get in trouble, said Leger, who handles cases involving students in 16 states.
“They’re young, in a foreign country, no adult supervision and they have money,” Leger said. “The Saudi government gives them money because they want them to get an American education, and they will do whatever is necessary to help them when they get in trouble. And coming up with bond money to get them out of jail is part of that.”
He recalls when six Saudi students were released from detention at Guantanamo Bay. The Saudi government sent a jumbo jet to take them home.
“Six of them, a jumbo jet,” Leger said. “They have money.”
On that note, Abid’s family spent $2,500 for the electronic bracelet and continues to pay $15 a day to have someone monitor his location.
Even though he’s still in a jail cell.