US soccer player gets 8 years in prison for killing referee
DETROIT— A widow held up a red card, signaling ejection, as a weekend soccer player was sentenced Friday to at least eight years in prison for a punch that killed a Detroit-area referee.
The case against Bassel Saad has put a spotlight on out-of-control recreational athletes and inspired Michigan lawmakers to consider new crimes for assaults on sports referees.
Saad, 37, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, admitting he punched referee John Bieniewicz during a game last summer. Bieniewicz, 44, was preparing to call a penalty that would have ejected the auto mechanic from the game.
He died two days later.
A red card signals ejection in soccer. Bieniewicz’ wife pulled one from her pocket during her remarks in court, although Saad had his back to the gallery and didn’t see it.
Kris Bieniewicz said the sentence and plea deal were generous.
“It’s murder. It will always be murder in my eyes,” she told the judge.
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.
“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.
The sentence followed terms of a plea deal reached in February that trumps an initial charge of second-degree murder. Saad was ordered to pay $9,200 in funeral expenses.
“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,” Judge Thomas Cameron told him.
The victim’s sisters and mother referred to Bieniewicz as a selfless son and sibling who didn’t miss a family member’s birthday and was a natural confidante.
“Our hearts are broken,” mother Barbara Bieniewicz said.