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Detroit-area soccer player faces December trial on murder charge after punching referee

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DETROIT - A recreational soccer player accused in the one-punch killing of a referee who was about to eject him from a game in suburban Detroit is scheduled to stand trial in December, a judge said Thursday.

Bassel Saad, 36, is charged with second-degree murder.

Authorities say the auto mechanic from Dearborn punched 44-year-old John Bieniewicz on June 29, as Bieniewicz was preparing to red-card Saad in an adult recreational league game in Livonia. Prosecutors have described the punch as "very violent" and "thought-out."

Bieniewicz, 44, died two days later from blunt impact to the left side of his neck.

Saad's lawyer Ali Hammoud, has argued for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, saying his client became "emotional" in a competitive game.

Saad made his first appearance in trial court Thursday, and a trial date was set for Dec. 8. A Sept. 12 motion hearing also was set, where Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway is expected to consider a defence request to lower Saad's bond to $150,000 from $1 million.

Hammoud also wants the trial moved out of Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit to a different venue due to extensive media coverage.

"There has been some misinformation that has been in the media that has come out in the preliminary examination, and it's going to hurt my client," Hammoud said.

Hathaway said high-profile cases aren't new and her experience has shown jurors take trials seriously regardless of publicity. She said the request will be heard Sept. 12. A final conference in the case is Oct. 31.

"There's always apprehension initially that either the prosecution or defence won't get a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage," Hathaway said. "I haven't found that ultimately to be the case."

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