August 7, 2014 at 11:57 am

Lawyer seeks change of venue for Dearborn man accused of fatally punching referee

Bassel Abdul Saad, left, with his attorney, Ali Hammoud, before Judge Kathleen McCann in 16th District Court in Livonia last month. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — A recreational Dearborn soccer player who allegedly killed a referee with one “very violent” punch is scheduled to stand trial in December, a Wayne County judge ruled Thursday morning in court.

Third Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway set a Dec. 8 trial date and entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of referee John Bieniewicz, 44.

Witnesses and police say Saad punched the referee on June 29 after the soccer official issued him a red card, effectively ejecting him from the game at Mies Park on West Chicago in Livonia.

Bieniewicz died two days after the assault in Detroit Receiving Hospital.

Defense attorney Ali Hammoud asked Hathaway to consider allowing Saad to have a change of venue to counteract extensive media coverage.

“I have no problem with the media,” Hammoud said. “I have no problem with them whatsoever, but the defendant is entitled to his 6th Amendment right to a fair and impartial case. But with the media, I don’t know if we’re going to get that.

“There has been some misinformation that has been in the media that has not come out in the preliminary examination, and it’s going to hurt my client.”

Hathaway said her experience over the years has shown jurors take trials seriously regardless of the publicity.

“This courtroom has tried a number of high-profile media cases,” Hathaway said. “There’s always apprehension initially that either the prosecution or defense won’t get a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage. I haven’t found that ultimately to be the case.”

Hammoud also asked for bond to be lowered from $1 million to $150,000 cash surety. Wayne County assistant prosecutor Erika Tusar argued bond should remain at the set amount, suggesting there is reason to believe Saad might not return for future court dates based on his history.

“He has a history of failing to appear for the minor stuff,” Tusar said. “We have a concern, and now this is a much more serious case, that he will not appear for the more serious stuff.”

Decisions on both bond and change of venue will be made at the next court hearing on Sept. 12, Hathaway said.

A final conference date is scheduled on Oct. 31. The prosecution and defense will have until Oct. 17 to file additional motions.
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This is an exhibit that shows both soccer teams trying to break up a fight ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)