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Judge: Previous assault out of bounds in soccer case

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Dearborn soccer player charged with killing a referee with one punch during a summer match won a legal victory Wednesday when a judge ruled that details of a previous assault during a game nine years ago would not be heard by jurors.

Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad is accused of "sucker punching" the referee, 44-year-old John Bieniewicz, in June and faces a second-degree murder charge. Prosecutors had hoped to tell future jurors of a similar soccer-related incident from Saad's past. In 2005, he struck another player near the head during a dispute when the victim was not looking. He was convicted of assault and battery.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Thomas Cameron ruled at a motion hearing Wednesday that Saad's involvement in the prior incident was inadmissible.

The rest of the day produced setbacks for Saad's defense. Cameron is the second judge to handle this case, which received national attention when Bieniewicz died on June 29.

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

Earlier this month, Wayne County Judge Cynthia Hathaway recused herself over her own bias in the case — saying she did not feel Saad correctly handled the situation when he was ejected from the game by Bieniewicz. She said because of her feelings she did not think she could guarantee Saad "his due process" of a fair trial.

On Wednesday the defense team sought to have Cameron revisit Hathaway's decision to bind Saad over for trial on a second-degree murder charge. Attorney Cyril Hall argued that Saad's actions amounted to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

"There was only one punch," Hall said. "And at the time that this particular punch was thrown, there was no discussion, no words or deeds said by the actor saying 'I'm going to kill this person.'"

But Cameron saw it differently.

"I do not find that the circuit court judge abused her discretion based on the accounts I saw... ," Cameron said.

The judge also ruled that a pair of photos, both reportedly showing Saad driving away from the scene while extending his middle finger, will be allowed into evidence at trial.

Additional autopsy photos, depicting the deep tissue damage caused by Saad's punch, will be considered during a hearing on Monday.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

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