Man pleads guilty to fatally punching Detroit-area referee during recreational soccer game



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A recreational soccer player in Michigan 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, he could also face deportation. (Feb. 20)

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DETROIT — A recreational soccer player who delivered one punch to a referee that killed the man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Friday 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 that he struck John Bieniewicz during a game last summer at a Livonia park. Bieniewicz died two days later. Saad initially was 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. He would have faced up to life in prison if convicted as charged.

Because Saad is not a U.S. citizen, he also could be deported.

"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 referee'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."

"But is that realistic? No. I know it's not realistic. But at the same point in time, I think my husband's life is worth more than eight years."

Bieniewicz, a medical assistant at a children's hospital whose wife described him as "just an easygoing guy," was killed while refereeing an over-30 men's league match at Mies Park.

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 — shown a red card — if they are given two yellow cards in the same game.

Bieniewicz, 44, left behind his wife and two sons.

Kris Bieniewicz 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.


Mike Householder can be reached at mhouseholder@ap.org and http://twitter.com/mikehouseholder

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