Bassel Saad (credit: Wayne County Prosecutor's Office)

Bassel Saad (credit: Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office)

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A soccer player charged in the one-punch killing of a referee during a game has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in which he would serve 8-15 years in prison.

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Bassel Saad pleaded guilty to a reduced charged of involuntary manslaughter during a hearing Friday in Detroit. Sentencing is set for March 13.

Saad, a 36-year-old auto mechanic from Dearborn, was initially charged with second-degree murder and had been scheduled to stand trial beginning Monday. He faced life in prison.

“When you do the math, it didn’t make sense to run the risk,” Attorney Cyril Hall said in explaining why his client took the deal.

Under the plea deal, Saad could be sentenced from eight to 15 years in prison but because he is not a U.S. citizen, he could face deportation.

Authorities say Saad punched John Bieniewicz on June 29 as the 44-year-old referee was preparing to red-card and eject Saad during the second half of a Michigan United Soccer League adult game in Livonia.

According to witnesses, Bieniewicz reached into his pocket and was in the process of pulling out a red card when he was punched. [HEAR THE 911 CALL]

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“He put his head down, put his hand in his pocket, and went to raise the red card, as he did that, I saw Mr. Saad take a few steps and throw a punch,” said a witness.

“It was a pretty quick motion,” the witness added, “sort of looked over the left shoulder, saw the ref approaching him from this direction – about to give him the card – and sort of turned back … and he turned back and swung in the direction of his head.”

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office says the blow knocked Bieniewicz out before he even hit the ground. He died two days later at a local hospital. The cause of death was “blunt impact to left side of his neck” the Medical Examiner said.

Kris Bieniewicz, the victim’s wife, said earlier this week she hoped Saad “never sees the light of day.”

Such an outcome would let the world “know that justice was served, and John’s life meant something,” she said.

Kris Bieniewicz recently testified at Michigan’s Capitol about proposed legislation she supports that would make it a felony to assault a sports official in the state.

Referees “are out there on an island with no one to defend them. Something more than a misdemeanor should be in place,” she said.

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