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

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — 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 inflicting severe bodily harm with possible deadly consequences on Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn, N.Y., after a barroom brawl in May 2008 near upstate Binghamton University.

Kovacevic's trial was to begin Monday but had been postponed until Tuesday. The person with knowledge of the case said a plea deal would be announced Tuesday and that 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.

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.

Schumer said the reported plea deal did not impose a tough enough sentence on Kovacevic.

"The punishment does not fit the crime," Schumer said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. "This was a dastardly deed that almost killed Bryan Steinhauer. His injuries and suffering are worth more than two years."

The Serbian government 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 Borivoje 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.

An incident happened at the courthouse entrance on Monday, when a policeman's gun accidentally fired, slightly injuring two people, court officials said.


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