Soccer player pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — A soccer player charged in a referee's death pleaded guilty on Friday to involuntary manslaughter.

Bassel Saad, 36, faces 8 to 15 years in prison under a sentencing agreement. He is not a U.S. citizen, so he also may face deportation as a result of the plea, said Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny.

Saad is from Lebanon, according to Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

Saad was remanded pending sentencing March 13 at 9 a.m. before Wayne County Circuit Judge Thomas Cameron.

"The plea bargain was a way to resolve this particular case," defense attorney Cyril Hall said after the hearing. "It saves the family the problem of having to testify, and it saves all of the witnesses from having to come back and relive what occurred."

Saad originally was charged with second-degree murder for "sucker punching" the referee, 44-year-old John Bieniewicz, during a June 29 game in Livonia. 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.

Bieniewicz, a Westland resident, died two days later at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

Bieniewicz's wife, Kris, was in court Friday to watch Saad enter the plea. Earlier this week, she said she hoped Saad "never saw the light of day."

The family left court without commenting after the hearing. Members of Saad's family also declined to comment.

Hall said defense witnesses would have testified at trial that Saad could not have expected his punch to result in death.

"They would have testified that this was about a 1-in-10 million chance that an individual could have died under these particular circumstances."

The attorney also said the case came down to whether Saad intended to "create great bodily harm" when he punched Bieniewicz.

"Mr. Saad got up on that day and he determined he was going to play soccer," said Hall, who added Saad has expressed remorse since the incident. "He didn't determine he was going to kill someone."

Saad's trial had been scheduled to begin Monday. He faced up to life in prison on the second-degree murder charge.

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Associated Press contributed.