Manslaughter sentence lands player 8-15 years after referee’s death

Above is the audio of a 911 call — obtained by the Detroit Free Press — from a woman who attended a recreational soccer match at Mies Park in Livonia, Michigan. On June 29 2014, two Michigan natives, John Bieniewicz and Bassel Saad, set out to play their usual roles in a Detroit-area recreational soccer match. Bienuewizcz was the match referee, and Saad a defender for one of the over-30 league participating teams. It would be the last time both of these men played their respective roles on the soccer field. Bieniewicz is dead, and the amateur defender will spend a minimum of eight years in prison, all because of a physical confrontation that occurred after Bieniewicz issued Saad a second yellow card.

According to testimony from other players, Bieniewicz issued Saad an initial warning during the first half of the game. As Bieniewicz was preparing to issue Saad a second yellow for being verbally abusive, the auto mechanic-by-day approached him, eventually punching him once in the head. John Bieniewicz died two days later.

The 911 caller and other witnesses stated that after realizing Bieniewicz was unconscious, Saad ran to his Jeep with a friend, gave spectators and other players the middle finger, and hastily fled the park where the game was being played.

“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.” – Saad’s attorney, Cyril Hall

At a February hearing, Saad accepted a plea deal, agreeing to plead guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge, rather than face trial for second-degree murder. A murder conviction could have come with a lifetime sentence for Saad, which is what John Bieniewicz’s widow Kris wanted. She told the Associated Press she hoped he “never sees the light of day.”

Bieniewicz’s death has lead to Michigan state officials considering whether in-game assault of a sports official should be upgraded to a felony. His wife appeared before legislators in support of the change, saying referees like her late husband “are out there on an island with no one to defend them.” She suggests that “something more than a misdemeanor should be in place.”

“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.” – Kris Bieniewicz

At yesterday’s (March 13) sentencing, Saad was sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison before being eligible for parole, and was ordered to pay $9,200 for Bieniewicz’s funeral costs. Judge Cameron Thomas told Saad, “For better or for worse, you’ve come to personify all that’s wrong with many people’s belief about the escalation of violence in sports.”

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

At the time the sentence was read, Kris Bieniewicz stood and showed Saad a red card she withdrew from her pocket. Unwavering from her prior stance that life in prison for Saad was the only just outcome for her husband’s case, she told Judge Thomas she believed the offer of a plea deal was too lenient, saying, “It’s murder. It will always be murder in my eyes.”

Saad’s sentence comes with a maximum of 15 years imprisonment.

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