BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) –A Serb basketball player pleaded guilty Monday to beating a fellow American student into a coma in the case that has strained relations between the United States and Serbia.
The plea was part of a bargain under which Miladin Kovacevic, 23, could be sentenced to two years and three months for the beating of Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn in May 2008 near Binghamton University. Three months of that has been served already in the U.S. and Serbia.
The First Municipal Court in Belgrade said that it will mail its final ruling to Kovacevic. It did not say when. Kovacevic’s lawyer said he expects this to happen within eight days.
Steinhauer has the right to appeal the plea bargain.
The Obama administration and Steinhouer’s family have said they were disappointed with the plea deal and that the proposed sentence was too lenient.
A prosecutor said during Monday’s hearing that the punishment for Kovacevic was in line with the sentences that U.S. courts have handed to the other two participants in the brawl — Edin Dzubar, of Johnson City, and Sanel Softic, of Binghamton — who had pleaded guilty to assault and were sentenced to two years in prison.
Kovacevic could have faced up to eight years in prison if he had not reached the plea deal with the prosecutors.
Kovacevic was first charged in the United States for assault. But he jumped bail and fled to Serbia, which refused to hand him over to the U.S., citing local laws banning extradition.
The Serbian government eventually paid $900,000 to Steinhauer’s family as part of an agreement that also called for putting Kovacevic on trial in Belgrade.
Kovacevic was accused of repeatedly kicking 24-year-old Bryan Steinhauer in the chest and head during the brawl. The beating left Steinhauer with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.
During Monday’s hearing at the First Municipal Court in Belgrade, Kovacevic seemed relaxed as he told a judge that he was aware of the charges against him and has knowingly agreed to the plea deal.
The prosecutors have also agreed to drop the charges that Kovacevic had incited two Serbian diplomats into issuing him a false passport that helped him flee the U.S.
The two diplomats are being tried separately in Belgrade for providing the fake documents.
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