LIVONIA (CBS Detroit/AP) – A metro Detroit soccer player accused of killing a referee with a punch to the neck will remain held on a $1 million bond, a judge ruled.
Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad made an initial court appearance on a second-degree murder charge Thursday, the same day family and friends were saying a final goodbye to the referee.
Saad was arraigned in Livonia District Court, less than 10 miles from where a funeral service was being held for John Bieniewicz.
“This is a horrendous tragedy,” Judge Kathleen McCann said before ordering the $1 million bond for Saad.
Bieniewicz died last week from injuries sustained June 29. Police and prosecutors said Saad struck Bieniewicz as the 44-year-old
referee announced his decision to eject him from an adult league game in Livonia.
Saad, a 36-year-old auto mechanic from Dearborn, had been charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm before Bieniewicz died July 1. That charge was formally dropped at Thursday’s hearing.
McCann entered a plea of not guilty on Saad’s behalf and set a probable cause hearing for July 30.
Saad stood mostly silent during his arraignment, saying only “yes” a few times when McCann asked if he understood his rights.
Defense lawyer Ali Hammoud said his client was “extremely remorseful,” knows what he did, and still stunned.
“One day he’s playing soccer, the next he’s charged with murder,” Hammoud told reporters, adding that Saad “has been crying ever since.”
“He’s not denying anything that happened,” said Hammoud, “but we don’t have all the facts yet. We’ll wait for the Medical Examiner’s report; we’ll have our day in court, and we will see what the facts say.”
Hammoud argued for a reduction in bond, but the prosecuting attorney argued against it on the grounds that Saad might be a flight risk.
“This man has different date of birth information — both between his passport and his green card and his driver’s license,” she said, adding that Saad has “contacts” in his home country and had been out of the U.S. for an extended period as recently as one year ago.
Hammoud countered saying “this isn’t your typical homicide.” He said his client has a wife, two kids and a business here — so he ‘s not going to run.
The $1 million cash/surety bond will be reviewed and could end up being reduced at a later date.
The attack on Bieniewicz came during the second half of an over-30 Michigan United Soccer League game in Mies Park. Bieniewicz reached into his pocket and was in the process of pulling out a red card when he was punched, according to witnesses and police, who said Saad later took off with another person as Bieniewicz was being tended to. [LISTEN TO THE 911 CALL]
Hammoud said in court Thursday that Saad left the field because he feared the situation “would escalate.”
Bieniewicz worked in the pediatric dialysis unit at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. He lived in Westland with his wife and two sons.
His death touched those at the highest levels of the sport. Referees working Major League Soccer games recently wore black armbands in tribute, and the president of soccer’s international governing body expressed his condolences in a letter to the head of U.S. Soccer.
“I was deeply shocked to learn of this tragic incident,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter wrote.
Bieniewicz’s funeral was held Thursday morning at Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church in Redford Township. Two memorial funds have been set up for his family. [Get more information HERE].
Saad faces up to live in prison if convicted.
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