March 13, 2015 / 10:40 AM / 4 years ago

Michigan man sentenced to eight to 15 years for soccer referee's death

DETROIT (Reuters) - A soccer player was sentenced to eight to 15 years in prison on Friday for fatally injuring a referee he punched during a recreational league game in a Detroit suburb last summer.

Bassel Saad, 37, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in February for causing the death of referee John Bieniewicz. Saad hit the 44-year-old referee in the neck or throat during a game in Livonia, Michigan, last June.

Saad, a native of Lebanon who lives in Dearborn, Michigan, is not a U.S. citizen and could be deported. Saad had originally faced a charge of second-degree murder.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Saad admitted to causing Bieniewicz’s death.

“You have through a childish senseless act destroyed two families,” said Wayne Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cameron. The judge said the case highlights a growing concern about the escalation of violence in sports.

During the emotional hearing, in which even courtroom officers seemed to blink back tears, Saad apologized to Bieniewicz’s family and said he prayed for them daily.

Cameron heard testimony from several of Bieniewicz’s family members about their loss, including his sisters, mother and wife, Kristen Bieniewicz.

The referee’s widow said she believed Saad committed murder and showed him a red card - the symbol of a serious transgression in soccer.

“My one saving grace in this is that my husband died doing what he loved,” Bieniewicz said.

Prosecutors had said Saad became upset at Bieniewicz, a longtime soccer referee, when the referee was about to eject him from an adult league game on June 29. Bieniewicz died two days later.

An autopsy determined that Bieniewicz had died from blunt force trauma to the neck and the Wayne County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

Reporting by Serena Maria Daniels in Detroit; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech

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