Plea bargain expected in case of Serb accused of attack on NY college student

By Jovana Gec, AP
Monday, September 13, 2010

Plea bargain expected in NY student’s beating case

BELGRADE, Serbia — A plea bargain is expected in the trial of a former Serb college basketball player charged with beating an American student into a coma, a person who has been informed of the deal told The Associated Press.

Miladin Kovacevic is accused of repeatedly kicking Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn, New York in the chest and head, after a barroom brawl in May 2008, near upstate Binghamton University. The beating left the 24-year-old Steinhauer, with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.

As the proceedings resumed on Tuesday, a deputy prosecutor offered talks on a possible plea bargain with Kovacevic and his lawyer. The court then recessed until early afternoon when talks are expected to be completed.

Kovacevic’s lawyer, Borivoje Borovic, refused to comment on the offer. Source close to the defense team told the AP on condition of anonymity they would agree to a deal if the offered sentence is not too high.

The person with knowledge of the case has said that under the plea deal, Kovacevic would face a prison sentence of two years and three months. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.

A plea bargain became possible in Serbia after changes were introduced last year to the country’s criminal law.

Kovacevic was first prosecuted in the U.S. but he jumped bail and fled to his native Serbia, which refused to hand him over to the U.S. citing local laws which ban extradition.

The case had strained U.S.-Serbian relations. Hillary Rodham Clinton intervened in the case, first as U.S. senator and later as secretary of state, as did U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

The Serbian government eventually paid $900,000 to Steinhauer’s family as part of an agreement to try Kovacevic in Belgrade.

This trial already was postponed once before, in June.

Judges ordered a second delay on Monday after lawyer Borovic filed a motion demanding that the court reject evidence provided from the U.S. Borovic argued that since Kovacevic was prosecuted in the U.S. as a juvenile, U.S. evidence cannot be used in Serbia where he was charged before regular courts.

Kovacevic, now 23, is additionally charged with obtaining the fake passport to flee the United States after the fight in a bar near Binghamton University.

He would have faced up to eight years in prison if convicted by the First Municipal Court in Belgrade.

Also on trial together with Kovacevic are two former Serbian diplomats, who are charged with abusing their positions when they provided false passport to Kovacevic.


Associated Press Writer Karen Matthews contributed to this story from New York.

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