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Detroit-area soccer player ordered tried on murder charge after punching referee over ejection

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LIVONIA, Mich. - A recreational soccer player will stand trial for the one-punch slaying of a referee who was about to penalize and eject him from a game in suburban Detroit.

After a two-day preliminary examination, Livonia District Judge Kathleen McCann determined Thursday there was enough evidence to bind Bassel Saad, 36, over to Wayne County Circuit Court on a charge of second-degree murder.

Authorities say the auto mechanic from Dearborn struck John Bieniewicz on June 29 as the referee was preparing to red-card Saad in an adult recreational league game.

Prosecutors showed a photo of Saad appearing to make an obscene gesture as he rode away in a vehicle with a teammate after Bieniewicz went down.

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

"Anyone should know in this day and age that this can cause death," McCann said.

Prosecutors described the punch as "very violent" and "thought-out."

"This defendant chose to do so in a moment of complete and utter surprise," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Raj Prasad said during Thursday's hearing.

Saad's lawyer argued for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

"It's a competitive soccer game. He got emotional and punched the referee," defence attorney Ali Hammoud said.

Players testified Wednesday that Saad had been issued a yellow card following a foul in the first half, and Bieniewicz was giving him a second yellow for being verbally abusive. That's when the referee was struck.

Players are ejected if they're given two yellow cards in the same game.

Bieniewicz didn't see the punch coming, Dr. Jamal Saleh testified. Saleh played for Saad's team during the over-30 men's league game at Mies Park in Livonia.

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