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Serbian athlete sought in assault on fellow student

  • Story Highlights
  • Miladin Kovacevic, 21, fled to Serbia after being charged with assault in bar fight
  • Mom paid bail and Serbian official provided temporary passport
  • Witnesses say Bryan Steinhauer, 22, was repeatedly kicked and left in a coma
  • The Serbian government said it would be "absolutely cooperative" in the case
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By Adam Reiss
CNN Senior Producer
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A fight over a woman in a college bar left one student in a coma and another charged with assault. As Bryan Steinhauer lay in a hospital bed, Miladin Kovacevic was bailed out by his mother, got a passport to replace the one surrendered to authorities and fled the country.

Charles Schumer and Condoleezza Rice

Miladin Kovacevic, 21, a university basketball player, fled the U.S. after being charged with assault.

"My son is not running away from justice, he's running away from injustice," Branka Kovacevic said of her 21-year-old son who was recruited to play basketball for Binghamton University in New York.

But Ivan Rochman, attorney for the Steinhauer family, rejected that claim. "That's not the way it works. He doesn't get to decide by fleeing the country and committing another criminal act," Rochman told CNN.

The fight started May 4, when Steinhauer, 22, tried to dance with the girlfriend of one of Kovacevic's friends.

Witnesses said Kovacevic, who is 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, kicked the 5-foot-9, 130-pound Steinhauer repeatedly in the head as he lay on the ground. Video Watch anguished families tell their sides »

Three men, including Kovacevic, were charged with assault and gang assault and held on $100,000 bail, according to police.

Kovacevic's parents said their son was threatened and disdained because of his nationality and they felt they had to rescue him.

Steinhauer, who was two weeks shy of graduating from Binghamton, remains in critical condition more than two months after the bar fight.

He's unable to drink or eat on his own, according to his parents, who say they are living through their own private hell.

"He has enough awareness to realize what situation he is in, especially when he sees us," Richard Steinhauer said in an exclusive interview with CNN.

"He starts yelling out and crying out with a tortured look on his face. He's starting to realize what has happened to him."

As the Steinhauers keep a bedside vigil for their son, they hope Kovacevic will be forced with the help of the U.S. government to return to the United States to stand trial, in what has become a diplomatic issue between Washington and Belgrade.

A Serbian consulate staffer in New York is accused of providing Kovacevic with emergency travel documents that helped him flee the country in early June.

The Serbian foreign ministry has recalled two consular officials back to Belgrade for disciplinary action.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has called on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to take action on the matter. U.S. Embassy officials have also met with the Kovacevic family in Belgrade.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration is trying everything it can diplomatically to bring Kovacevic back to the United States.

"I mean, clearly, look, this is a painful episode for all involved," said McCormack.

"We want to do our part to see that it's resolved as quickly as possible."

The Serbian government said it would be "absolutely cooperative." However, Serbian law does not allow Kovacevic to be extradited and Serb officials have suggested U.S. authorities provide them with the full case file so they can decide whether he should be prosecuted in Serbia.

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But Steinhauer attorney Rochman said the U.S. family's nightmare should not be "compounded by a second nightmare that the person primarily responsible for this vicious beating doesn't have to face American justice."

"That's a little too much," he said.

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