BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian authorities have sought to persuade a Serb wanted on assault charges in the United States to return there voluntarily to face justice, but he refuses to go, the lawyer said Wednesday.
The attorney, Veselin Cerovic, also said the defendant, former college student Miladin Kovacevic, turned down a plea bargain deal from the United States under which he would plead guilty to assault and evading justice, and serve 12 years in prison.
It was not immediately possible to contact U.S. officials to confirm the reported plea bargain offer.
Kovacevic, 20, a towering Serb who played basketball for Binghamton University in upstate New York, is accused of severely beating a fellow student, Bryan Steinhauer, there during a bar fight in May. Steinhauer, 22, only recently started to emerge from a coma that resulted from the fight.
Kovacevic was initially jailed in the U.S. but after being released on bail he escaped to Serbia on a duplicate passport in June.
Earlier this week, Kovacevic was filmed by an Associated Press Television News crew during a training session at a local basketball club in northern Serbia. He refused to talk to reporters.
Cerovic told The Associated Press his client does not believe he would receive a fair trial in the U.S. and wants to be tried in Serbia instead. The lawyer said "this case has been so blown up in the media that there is no chance of a fair trial."
Washington has demanded that Serbia return Kovacevic to America to face justice. But Serbian authorities said local laws do not allow extradition. Cerovic said the Serbian government has "done all it could to persuade Miladin to return" voluntarily.
Cerovic added that the reported U.S. plea bargain offer "showed what kind of justice awaits him there." He said the offer was made through Kovacevic's U.S. lawyer.
"What is basically a small assault case has turned into an international problem," Cerovic said. "The only way out is to try him here."