Michigan man pleads guilty to beating soccer referee to death during game

Michigan man pleads guilty to beating soccer referee to death during game
John Bieniewicz, a 44-year-old soccer referee, seen here on vacation with his children. Bieniewicz died July 1, two days after he was assaulted while officiating a match outside Detroit. (James Acho)

A Michigan man pleaded guilty Friday to beating a soccer referee to death during a recreational match last summer, and could face up to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Bassel Saad, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the June death of John Bieniewicz, a 44-year-old father of two.

Saad, who was initially charged with second-degree murder, will face eight to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced next month, according to Maria Miller, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Wayne County, Mich.

Bieniewicz was trying to eject Saad from a June 29 match for unknown reasons when the 36-year-old punched him in the head, prosecutors have said. Bieniewicz was knocked unconscious by the blow and died two days later.

Saad's attorney, Cyril Hall, told the Los Angeles Times that his client threw just one punch, but the blow ruptured Bieniewicz's vertebral artery, leading to his death.

"This was one in a 10 million chance that the person would have died in one blow," Hall said.

Saad has two children, and had been playing soccer in various leagues for more than 20 years, according to Hall.

Friends previously told The Times that Bieniewicz, a standout football and basketball player in high school, had been serving as an official on weekends for nearly two decades. Neither of them knew the other prior to the June 29 match.

"There was no animosity between the parties," Hall said. "This was a day he woke up to go play soccer and I'm satisfied the decedent was going to referee a game."

Bieniewicz worked as a supervisor of pediatric dialysis at Mott's Children's Hospital in Dearborn, Mich., on weekdays, but his love of soccer led him to officiate college, high school and adult recreational league games.

The 44-year-old, who had been married for 16 years, had never been in a physical altercation with a player on the pitch, friends said.

Jeff Szajnecki, a Pittsburgh resident who played basketball and football alongside Bieniewicz in high school, previously told The Times Saad's team was new to the league where Bieniewicz was serving as an official.

"It's just so sad that he basically got killed doing something that he loved,"Szajnecki said in July.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news