BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A Belgrade court said Wednesday it will sentence a former Serb basketball player to about two years in jail after he pleaded guilty to beating an American student into a coma in the case that has strained relations between the United States and Serbia.

Miladin Kovacevic, 23, was accused of beating fellow college student Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn in May 2008 near Binghamton University during a barroom brawl. The assault left Steinhauer with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.

The court said Wednesday it accepted the plea bargain between the defense and the prosecution and will sentence Kovacevic to two years and three months. He has already spent about three months in U.S. and Serbian prisons, he will have to serve about two years for the assault.

The Obama administration and Steinhouer’s family have said they were disappointed with the plea deal and that the proposed sentence was too lenient. Kovacevic could have faced up to eight years in prison if he had gone on trial.

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.

Steinhauer has the right to appeal the plea bargain, the Belgrade court said Wednesday.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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