DETROIT - 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.
The death of John Bieniewicz was "senseless, meaningless," his wife, Kris Bieniewicz, told the judge. "All because of a call on a soccer field. It's a game. It's a game that we teach our kids as soon as they can walk."
Saad pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, admitting he punched Bieniewicz during a game last summer at a Livonia park. Bieniewicz, 44, was preparing to call a penalty that would have ejected the Dearborn auto mechanic.
Bieniewicz died two days later.
A red card signals ejection in soccer. Kris Bieniewicz pulled one from her pocket at the end of her remarks in court, although Saad had his back to the gallery and didn't see it.
She said the sentence and plea deal were generous, adding: "It will always be murder in my eyes."
"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.
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 for the Bieniewicz family, which includes two children.
Saad wishes "he could have that day back," defense attorney Cyril Hall 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," Wayne County 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.