Ziyad Abid was a Missouri college student aspiring to become a pilot like his father back home in Saudi Arabia when he was accused of paying his roommate to kill a local bar owner.
The judge set bond at $2 million, completely out of reach for his family — but not for the Saudi government.
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The money came in. Yet two months later, a judge is refusing to let him out. According to a court transcript, the judge acknowledged he may be violating the Missouri Constitution, which allows defendants to be held without bond only in capital murder cases.
But the judge won't budge. Or explain why.
Abid’s lawyers, including a former U.S. attorney for Missouri, have asked a state appeals court to release Abid and remove Circuit Judge Michael Wagner from the case, arguing that he is biased in part by Abid’s nationality. The court has given Wagner until Monday to respond.
Abid was studying aviation at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg when his roommate, Reginald Singletary Jr., admitted killing popular bar owner Blaine Whitworth in September but claimed Abid paid him to do it, according to court documents.
Prosecutors haven't disclosed an alleged motive, but defense attorneys said that Abid had no personal connection to Whitworth and that Singletary had been fired as the bar’s bouncer.
“There's no indication whatsoever this case has anything to do with any kind of subversive activity or terrorism,” said defense attorney John Osgood, a former federal prosecutor. “This is a plain old simple murder of a bar owner done by a bouncer who was fired a week before. My client just happened to be his roommate.”
Both men are charged with first-degree murder, but not capital murder. If convicted, they could face up to life in prison.
Johnson County prosecutor Lynn Stoppy declined to comment on case details but said she agreed with a previous judge's ruling that Abid should be granted bond. An attorney for Singletary, who remains jailed on $1 million bond, declined comment.
Wagner hasn't returned messages from The Associated Press.
Wagner's predecessor in the case, Circuit Judge Jacqueline Cook, initially denied bond in November because she feared Abid would flee or be deported. She said Abid's revoked student visa — the result of him being expelled from school — could open the door for the government to deport him ahead of trial.
But two weeks later, she acknowledged that the Missouri Constitution required bond and set it at $2 million. That same day, she retired and handed the case to Wagner.
The slain bar owner’s mother, Diane Whitworth, said she is afraid Abid would ask to be deported if he were released.
“We understand nothing we can do will bring our son back,” she told the AP. “It isn't just about one person. It's about anyone who comes to the U.S. to avail themselves of our educational system and commits a crime. They have the potential luxury of being deported before anything happens.”
But the defense says Abid isn’t going anywhere. In unsuccessfully trying to lower his bond, Abid’s attorneys argued it would bankrupt his family to post the 10 percent that bond companies require.
Abid's father eventually persuaded the Saudi government to post the entire $2 million, according to court records.
During a hearing April 5, Wagner told defense attorney Pat Peters that the court would be satisfied if $2 million were deposited in its bank account. The money was wired that day, according to court documents. But a few days later, Wagner reversed himself.
Peters confronted him, according to court transcripts, saying: “I just want to make sure I heard this court just say that despite the law, despite Judge Cook's order, despite the representations by the prosecutor and defense counsel, you have just said ‘no bond’ in this case.”
“That is correct, counsel,” Wagner said, according to the transcript.