John Bieniewicz

Amateur player in Michigan sentenced to 8 years for referee’s death; Could face deportation

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Bassel Saad pleaded for forgiveness as he was sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison for the ‘involuntary manslaughter’ of referee John Bieniewicz last year.

Saad, 37, was set to be handed a red card in a men’s league game and punched Bieniewicz, who died from the attack.

[ MORE: Testimony in trial | Detroit fans donate ]

Bieniewicz’s widow held up a red card of her own at the sentencing, and thinks the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Saad is eligible for parole in 2023, but could see as many as 15 years in prison with the chance for deportation.

From the Associated Press:

She said the sentence and plea deal were generous, adding: “It will always be murder in my eyes.”

“One man has enough pent-up frustration, enough vengeance in his heart, that with one blow he can take my husband’s life and in the process destroy not only my family but his family,” Bieniewicz said.

Saad, 37, will be eligible for parole after eight years. The maximum punishment is 15 years in prison, and he also could be deported. He expressed remorse and said he prays daily for the Bieniewicz family, which includes two children.

“I hope he’s with us, he can hear me. … I hope one day they forgive me,” Saad said.

The story has served as an important example that is unfortunately necessary: We all take sports far too seriously, and it should never ever come to violence on the pitch, even more so against an official.

Recreational soccer player pleads guilty for killing referee with ‘sucker punch’

Detroit Free Press

A 36-year-old Detroit man named of Bassel Saad pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for killing recreational soccer referee John Bieniewicz with a “sucker punch” to the face last summer, according to The Detroit Free Press.

Saad was playing in the men’s league when he attacked Bieniewicz during match in Livonia, Michigan.

Two days after the episode, Bieniewicz, a father of two who worked at a hospital in Ann Arbor, passed away.

Saad was charged with second-degree murder at first, which could have resulted in life imprisonment, but a plea deal has altered his sentence, now in the range of eight to 15 years.

Through the Associated Press:

“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.”

An auto mechanic by trade and father of three, Saad may not fit the mold of a cold-blooded murderer, but he did have fighting issues in the past.

Saad hit another soccer player in the head multiple times, based on the prior report from The Detroit Free Press, and was forced to serve five days community service and twelve months probation.

“He is very, very remorseful,” Hall said of Saad’s mental state. “He has been writing prayers out for several months. That’s all he does. He talks about the (Bieniewicz) family first.”

Testimony in death of Michigan referee provides disturbing glimpse into incident


Some harrowing details emerged in the probable cause hearing for Bassel Saad, the American man charged with murder after punching and killing referee John Bieniewicz in a Michigan men’s league soccer game.

Bieniewicz was felled by one punch from Saad, witnesses testified, as the referee prepared to brandish a red card. Saad, an auto mechanic, had a previous yellow and was earning a second for verbal abuse.

The referee fell to the turf with a yellow in one hand and the red in the other, and later died from his injuries.

From Mike Householder of the Associated Press comes a recap of the testimony, including that of Saad’s teammate Dr. Jamal Saleh:

The punch, which Saleh said landed around the head and neck area, caused Bieniewicz to “fall back without any control of his body.”

Saleh said he rushed toward Bieniewicz, who was on his back grasping a yellow card in one hand and a red card in the other.

A skirmish erupted between players following the attack. Saleh said he quickly checked on Bieniewicz and the referee initially was not breathing but had a pulse.

Saleh said he performed CPR and told the unconscious Bieniewicz: “Wake up, buddy. You’re going to be OK.”

Bieniewicz, tragically, was not.

Witnesses also testified that Saad, 36, removed his shirt and immediately left the field. When another player followed Saad into the parking lot to get his license place number, he was reportedly photographed making an obscene gesture.

Prosecutors were denied in their attempts to include an on-field incident involving Saad back in 2005.

source: (Bill Bressler)

Saad was emotional in previous hearings — including the powerful image at right — and the whole incident should give anyone pause to reflect on how they act in amateur soccer matches, especially upon consideration of how often things happen that could turn out to inflict permanent damage on the opponent or official.

Without jumping to conclusions, it’s difficult to imagine that Saad’s punch was intended to end Bieniewicz’s life but that matters very little. Whether the intention should change the eventual consequences of his actions is another discussion altogether (perhaps one for the courts to decide).

Our thoughts continue to be with the Bieniewicz family and Michigan soccer community.

Tragedy in Michigan: Referee dies after being punched by player


Just one day after The Guardian ran a comprehensive piece on the vibrant adult soccer scene in Detroit, there’s a tragic story coming out of the Michigan city’s suburbs.

Veteran referee John Bieniewicz has died as a result of injuries suffered from a punch to the head from a player during an over-30 men’s game on Sunday.

The 20-year referee was in the process of ejecting player Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad from a game when the player struck him in the head. Saad was “arraigned Monday on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm.”

And so a men’s league game has led to the death of a father, husband and respected official.

From the Associated Press:

Bieniewicz, 44, was a dialysis technician at Mott Children’s Hospital who lived in the Detroit suburb of Westland with his wife and two sons, said Acho, who was a classmate of Bieniewicz’s at Catholic Central High School.

“I speak for all his friends when I say we are devastated. Crushed. Just a senseless way for a great guy to go out,” Acho said. “He deserved better.”

The incident, along with a similar death in Utah last year when a referee was killed by a teenage player, is raising concern about the safety of amateur sports.

“Never in my life did I think it would happen here,” Joseph Cosenza, a player in the game Sunday, told Fox 2 News in Detroit.

“All of that over a meaningless, know-nothing, over-30 men’s soccer league that, honestly, it’s not worth it,” Cosenza said.

“You know, we all want to go and play, but the more I talk to friends, the more they say it’s not worth playing anymore, because this is starting to happen more and more often.”

These brutal stories are necessary to publicize, as the photo of the man and his family, if only to remind players, coaches and parents time and time again that real people are officiating and playing alongside you. It’s not a video game.

Our condolences to Bieniewicz’s family, friends and the entire Detroit soccer community.