Friday, March 13, 2015

Soccer ref widow holds up red card at sentencing of player who killed husband on pitch

A Michigan soccer player who killed a referee with a single punch to the face last summer was sentenced to eight to fifteen years in prison Friday. 

Bassel Saad pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter last month after admitting he struck John Bieniewicz during a game at a Livonia park, according to The Detroit News

The 44-year-old referee was about to call a penalty that would have booted Saad, who already had a yellow card, when the player dealt the blow that would eventually kill Bieniewicz two days later.

And, in a dramatic gesture which silenced the courtroom during sentencing, Bieniewicz's widow Kris pulled out a red card as she spoke on the stand to symbolize her husband's last action before his untimely death, and said she will always see the act as murder. 

"Before I go the one final thing that I want to do is I would like to serve Saad with the red card that he was entitled to," she said in her closing remarks.  

Bieniewicz previously told reporters that she hoped the 36 year-old Saad "never sees the light of day," and that she believed her husband's life was "worth more than eight years."

Saad faced second-degree murder charges before he took a plea deal. He will be eligible for parole after eight years and his maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay more than $9,200 for restitution and the father-of-two's funeral costs.

Bieniewicz's mother and three sisters were also present in court. Saad told them through tears that he was sorry from "the bottom of my heart."   

Saad, an auto mechanic and a native of Lebanon, has lived in the US legally for 15 years but is not a citizen. The father-of-three could face deportation after he serves his time. 

A number of players testified in court last year that Saad had been issued a yellow card, or an official warning, following a foul in the first half of a game last June.

Bieniewicz was about to issue him a second yellow card for being verbally abusive. That's when the referee was struck, the players said.

Saad's punch landed in the head and neck area, causing Bieniewicz to fall and stop breathing.

Bieniewicz's widow said her only consolation was knowing that her husband died doing something he loved. 

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