A recreational soccer player in Michigan who was charged with punching a referee and killing him during a game has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors. Bassel Saad will serve eight to 15 years in prison as part of the deal and will plead either guilty or no contest to involuntary manslaughter, according to his lawyer, Cyril Hall.
The incident in question took place last year during an over-30 men’s league recreational soccer match. Multiple players testified in court that Saad was issued a yellow card by Bieniewicz. Bieniewicz was about to issue Saad a second yellow card for being verbally abusive, which would have resulted in Saad’s ejection from the game, when Saad struck Bieniewicz in the head. Bieniewicz was immediately knocked unconscious and died two days later.
Saad faced a sentence of up to life in prison if he was found guilty of the charges of second-degree murder. Hall said that his client agreed to plea deal because, “It didn’t make sense to run the risk” of Saad possibly going to prison for the rest of his life. The official sentencing hearing will he held on March 15.
Bieniewicz’s death prompted a bill in the Michigan Legislature that aims to better protect referees and increases the punishment for assaulting a referee. The bill proposes that assaulting a referee be upgraded to a felony that is punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to three years in prison. This would add another criminal statute that could be used against someone who assaults a referee in addition to a charge such as assault or murder.
Proponents of the bill hope that it will discourage spectators or participants of a sporting event from harassing or victimizing sports officials. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said of the bill, “I think it will be a deterrent,” and hopes that spectators and participants alike will “think twice knowing they could get a felony” for assaulting an official. Another strong advocate of the bill includes Bieniewicz’s widow, Kris. She recently testified at Michigan’s Capitol, showing her support for the bill.
In her opinion, referees “are out there on an island with no one to defend them. Something more than a misdemeanor should be in place.”
The bill, introduced in late January, has yet to have a hearing.