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Mich. Soccer Referee Dies After Being Punched by Player

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A Michigan soccer referee died days after being punched in the head by a player during one of his adult-league matches.

John Bieniewicz, 44, a father of two from the Detroit suburb of Westland, died from his injuries Tuesday, after being hospitalized from a player's punch on Sunday. CNN reports that Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, of Dearborn, has been charged as the attacker, and is currently being held on $500,000 bail.

How will this ref's alleged assailant be prosecuted?

Charged With Assault to Do Great Bodily Harm

Witnesses told the Detroit Free Press that Bieniewicz was assaulted when he was "about to eject a player" and was "looking down, trying to get a violation card when it happened." According to CNN, after the attack, Saad fled the scene, but not before waving his middle finger at the crowd.

Although it's unclear whether Saad intended to kill Bieniewicz with his on-field punch, Michigan prosecutors have charged him with assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. That may sound like a mouthful, but the statute is similar to many forms of aggravated assault which exist in other states.

A person can be found guilty under this statute if he or she:

  • Assaults another person by strangulation; or
  • Assaults another person with intent to do great bodily harm, less than the crime of murder.

The distinction from murder is important, because suspects may also be charged with second degree murder if a death results from a blow intended to cause serious bodily harm. It's possible that prosecutors felt that while Saad intended to injure Bieniewicz with a punch to the head, it may be less likely that he believed death would be a likely outcome.

Refs Are Often Targets

Bieniewicz was actually the second referee in a little over a year to die from being punched by a player. A Utah youth soccer referee died in May 2013 after being punched in the face by a 17-year-old player. CNN reports that the teen was ordered to keep a picture of the victim in his cell during his juvenile-hall sentence as a reminder.

Perhaps the culture of soccer ref roughness will come up during Saad's preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for July 10.

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