A 24-year-old Missouri college student from Saudi Arabia walked out of jail a free man for the first time in nearly a year Friday after prosecutors dropped charges that accused him of being involved in the shooting death of a local bar owner.
Ziyad Abid was preparing to enter his senior year at the University of Central Missouri when he was arrested Sept. 5 on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. His case garnered international attention after the Saudi government posted Abid's $2 million bail but a judge refused to release him.
Johnson County Prosecutor Lynn Stoppy announced Friday morning that she had dismissed the case.
"Very recently, our understanding of evidence previously obtained from a critical witness has changed. As a result, the state is currently left without sufficient evidence to support the prosecution at this time," she said in an email.
Stoppy didn't go into detail in her email and she didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
Investigators said Abid's roommate, Reginald Singletary Jr., admitted killing Warrensburg bar owner Blaine Whitworth but told them that Abid paid him to do it, according to court documents.
Abid's attorneys said there was no evidence connecting Abid to the death other than Singletary's comments, but they noted that Singletary had been fired as a bouncer at one of Whitworth's bars a week before the shooting. Whitworth was fatally shot in his driveway on Sept. 1.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, whose office joined the case a month ago as special prosecutor, issued a statement Friday confirming there wasn't enough evidence against Abid.
"First-degree murder is the most serious offense that the State can charge. We have an ethical obligation to dismiss a case once it becomes clear that the evidence presently available to the prosecution is not sufficient to proceed," Koster said.
Singletary remains in jail on $1 million bond on the same charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
"We're thrilled beyond belief," Abid attorney Pat Peters said. "It's depressing that a pathological liar can keep an innocent person in jail 11 months, and a circuit judge won't follow the law."
Diane Whitworth, the victim's mother, was clearly upset by the dismissal when reached by phone Friday morning.
"We are disappointed, but other than that there isn't anything else to say," she said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents briefly took Abid into custody after Stoppy dropped the charges because his student visa had been revoked when he couldn't attend classes while in jail.
He was issued a notice to appear before a federal immigration judge and was released on his own recognizance later in the day, according to a statement from ICE.
Circuit Judge Jacqueline Cook set bond for Abid at $2 million in November — along with a number of other conditions — but said she was concerned Abid was a flight risk. She also expressed concerns that Abid would be deported because his student visa had lapsed when he could not attend classes.
Cook retired shortly after that ruling and handed the case to Circuit Judge Michael Wagner. Wagner also said he was deeply troubled by the possibility that Abid would be deported if released from jail, so he refused to release him.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.