- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

DETROIT — A recreational soccer player pleaded guilty Friday in the one-punch killing of a referee in a deal with prosecutors that calls for him to serve up to 15 years in prison.

Bassel Saad, 36, acknowledged in a Detroit courtroom Friday that he struck and killed John Bieniewicz during a game last summer.

Saad, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, was initially charged with second-degree murder and had been scheduled to stand trial beginning Monday.

The auto mechanic from Dearborn will be sentenced March 13. Under the plea deal, he could be sentenced from eight to 15 years in prison.

Saad would have faced up to life in prison if convicted as charged.

“This was something less than an attempt to kill. … Mr. Saad, he got up that day, and he determined that he was going to play soccer. He didn’t determine that he was going to kill someone on that particular day,” said defense lawyer Cyril Hall, who added his client is “very, very remorseful.”

Kris Bieniewicz, the victim’s wife, attended Friday’s hearing, but did not speak to reporters afterward.

She told The Associated Press earlier this week that she hoped Saad “never sees the light of day.”

Such an outcome would let the world “know that justice was served, and John’s life meant something,” Bieniewicz said.

Her husband was killed while refereeing an over-30 men’s league match at Mies Park in Livonia.

A number of players testified in court last year that Saad had been issued a yellow card, or an official warning, following a foul in the first half of the June 29 match, and Bieniewicz was about to issue him a second yellow for being verbally abusive. That’s when the referee was struck, the players said.

Players are ejected if they are given two yellow cards in the same game.

Bieniewicz died two days later.

His widow recently testified at Michigan’s Capitol in support of proposed legislation that would make it a felony to assault a sports official in the state.

Referees “are out there on an island with no one to defend them. Something more than a misdemeanor should be in place,” she said.


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