WARRENSBURG, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge said Tuesday he's not convinced that a Saudi man charged with first-degree murder isn't a flight risk, and he put off a decision about whether to release the man on $2 million bond.
Despite assurances from Ziyad Abid's attorneys that he couldn't flee the country even if he wanted to, Circuit Judge Michael Wagner said he needed more time to decide whether to release him from jail on bond. Wagner asked attorneys to present him with evidence that the federal government wouldn't try to deport Abid, despite the severity of the charges, and he promised to rule soon on the matter.
"The court takes the charge of first-degree murder very seriously," Wagner said. "This has been a tough situation for the court to deal with."
Abid, 24, was charged Sept. 5 with murder and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting four days earlier of Blaine Whitworth, a popular 25-year-old bar owner from Warrensburg, about 50 miles southeast of Kansas City. Investigators say a Kansas City man, Reginald Singletary Jr., admitted to shooting Whitworth in Whitworth's driveway and said Abid paid him to do it.
Prosecutors haven't disclosed a possible link between Abid and Whitworth or a possible motive for the killing. Abid's attorneys have said Whitworth fired Singletary from his job as a bouncer about a week before the shooting and that investigators coaxed Singletary into implicating Abid.
Defense attorneys also have accused Wagner of being biased against Abid because he is from Saudi Arabia.
Abid's status as a student at the University of Central Missouri was revoked soon after his arrest. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Cook, who initially handled the case, said she was troubled that Abid was an "alien unlawfully in the United States" and could request to be deported if released from jail, so she ordered him held without bond.
Two weeks later, though, Cook changed her mind and said the Missouri constitution requires bond to be set in all but capital cases. She set bond at $2 million, along with a number of other conditions that Abid's attorneys called the harshest they've ever seen. She then announced her retirement and recused herself from the case, handing it over to Wagner.
Abid, who was preparing for his senior year at Central Missouri majoring in aviation studies before he was charged, gave up his passport and pilot's license and was hooked up to an electronic monitoring device — all conditions of Cook's order.
After defense attorneys were unable to get Wagner to reduce the bond, Abid's father, Tariq Abid, persuaded the Saudi government to post the money, and it was wired into the Johnson County court clerk's bank account in early April.
That wasn't good enough for Wagner, who said Cook's order specifically required a licensed bail bond agent — not a foreign government — to post the bond. That came as a surprise to both defense attorneys and Johnson County Prosecutor Lynn Stoppy, all of whom agreed with Cook's assessment that bond must be allowed.
Abid's attorneys in May filed a writ with the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City to have Wagner removed from the case and to free Abid on bond, but the court rejected both requests and sent the case back to Wagner for another bond hearing.
Wagner on Tuesday asked attorneys to present evidence that the federal government wouldn't deport Abid if he were released on bond, and to say what assurances they could give him that Abid would show up for trial.
Attorney Pat Peters assured him the government wouldn't deport someone who is facing serious criminal charges, and noted that his client has done everything else required of him to be released.
"We've never, never heard of anyone being deported while facing a serious criminal case," Peters said.
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Tuesday he couldn't recall a case in which a foreign national was deported while awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge, but that it's unlikely the agency keeps statistics on such cases.
Stoppy said Department of Homeland Security agents told her people unlawfully in the country are deported every day, and none could guarantee that Abid wouldn't be deported if freed from jail. Still, she said she agreed that Missouri's constitution requires him to be allowed to go free on bond.
Abid's trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 20.