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Missouri judge confused by new indictment against Saudi student

Monday, July 29, 2013 | 7:06 p.m. CDT; updated 7:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 29, 2013

WARRENSBURG — A judge overseeing the case of a Saudi national accused of hiring his roommate to kill a Missouri bar owner said Monday that he's confused about why prosecutors dismissed charges against the man, then immediately refiled them after a grand jury returned a new indictment charging him with the same offenses.

The case of Ziyad Abid has drawn attention because Circuit Court Judge Michael Wagner has repeatedly refused to allow him to bond out of jail while he awaits trial in the death of Warrensburg bar owner Blaine Whitworth. Wagner has also refused a request from the state for a delay in the trial, which was set to begin in August.

Because of the new indictment, attorneys have 10 days to file a request for a new judge, new venue or both. It's unclear how such requests would affect Abid's bond status.

"This is a very unusual case," Wagner said during an arraignment Monday for Abid, 24, on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. "Frankly, I've never seen anything quite like it."

A second man, Reginald Singletary Jr., 28, who was living with Abid at the time, told investigators Abid paid him to kill Whitworth, who was found shot to death Sept. 1 in the businessman's driveway.

Defense attorneys have argued that Singletary had been fired from one of Whitworth's bars a week before the fatal shooting and Abid had nothing to do with the slaying. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Abid remains behind bars even though the Saudi government in April posted $2 million bond, an amount set by Wagner's predecessor. Wagner said he believes Abid, an aviation student, who had been preparing to enter his senior year at the University of Central Missouri, is a flight risk. Abid's student visa was revoked after he was arrested Sept. 5.

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to get an appeals court to remove Wagner from the case and order Abid to be freed on bond. The judge rejected their contention that the state constitution requires bond to be set in all non-capital cases, including Abid's.

Jury selection was scheduled to start Aug. 6, but that that date now appears in doubt — especially since Wagner set a hearing for Aug. 5 to discuss with the attorneys how he can move the case forward.

Two weeks ago, after the Missouri attorney general's office said it had been asked to help prosecute the case, Wagner rejected a state request to continue the trial and said he was ready for the Aug. 20 start date.

Now, "this matter is starting basically from scratch," Wagner said Monday.

Abid's attorneys said it's unfair to delay the trial simply because the attorney general's office got involved at the last minute and that pushing the trial back wouldn't be such a big deal if Abid weren't behind bars.

"Our position is that it's merely a technical change in case number," defense attorney John Osgood said. "We want to go to trial. Our client is still locked up, and we're ready to go."

Assistant Attorney General David Hansen, who took part in the hearing via telephone, said it also wouldn't be fair to start the trial before the state had a chance to review hundreds of pages of court documents and 100 hours of video.

"The court is ready to go to trial," Wagner said. "I would like nothing more than to move forward. I'm perplexed on how to proceed."

Abid could face life in prison if convicted.


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