By BILL DRAPER
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — A former University of Central Missouri aviation student who was accused of paying his roommate to kill a Warrensburg bar owner is back home in Saudi Arabia, nearly three weeks after charges against him were dropped.
Ziyad Abid, 24, who spent 11 months in the Johnson County jail without bond on first-degree murder and armed criminal action charges, flew out of Kansas City on Monday to Washington, D.C., defense attorney Pat Peters said. He left Washington on Tuesday and landed in Saudi Arabia early Wednesday.
“I think the immediate thing is, he wanted to and was expected to see his family,” Peters said. “That had been part of the ongoing stress while he was in jail, that he hadn’t seen his mom and family.”
Blaine Whitworth, a popular 25-year-old bar owner in the small university community of about 23,000 people, was shot to death in his driveway Sept. 1. Abid was arrested four days later after his roommate, Reginald Singletary Jr., told police he killed Whitworth, but Abid paid him to do it.
Prosecutors offered little evidence of Abid’s involvement other than Singletary’s statement, which defense attorneys claimed he made after being badgered by interrogators into pinning the crime on the Saudi.
Peters said he has never been involved in a case in which speculation posted on social media played such a significant role in shaping how it was handled. The rumors, including that Abid was a Saudi prince who had loaned Whitworth $50,000 and wanted his bar, didn’t make sense, he said.
“It is what we call our first Facebook case, where comments people would make took on evidentiary value,” Peters said. “When they were checked out, they just didn’t add up.”
Abid was preparing to begin his senior year at Central Missouri, where he was studying aviation and planned to become a pilot like his father, when he was taken into custody. His student visa lapsed when he couldn’t attend classes and was expelled by the school, which made him an “alien unlawfully in the United States.”
Circuit Judge Jacqueline Cook set bond at $2 million in November, along with a number of other conditions, then retired and handed the case to Circuit Judge Michael Wagner.
The Saudi government posted $2 million bond in April, but Wagner refused to releaseAbid because he considered him a flight risk who could be deported if he were freed. Wagner also rejected arguments by defense attorneys and prosecutors, alike, that Missouri’s constitution required bond to be set.
Johnson County prosecutor Lynn Stoppy dismissed charges against Abid on July 26 after a grand jury indicted him on the same counts, then she immediately refiled them.
A week later she announced she was dropping charges again because evidence from a critical witness had changed. Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, which joined the case in July as special prosecutor, also acknowledged the evidence against Abidwas weak.
Abid’s departure from the U.S. came as no surprise to Whitworth’s mother, Diane Whitworth, who had expressed concerns earlier this year that Abid would flee the country if he were released from custody.
“This is what we expected all along if he got the chance,” she said.