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Plead deal for Serbian accused of brutal beating

From Adam Reiss, CNN
  • Miladin Kovacevic allegedly beat Bryan Steinhauer, 24, into a coma outside bar
  • Kovacevic was 6-feet-9, 260 pounds and Steinhauer 130 pounds at time of fight
  • Serbian consular officials helped Kovacevic jump bail, flee to Serbia after arrest
  • Serbian government asked for Steinhauer family blessing for plea, but family refused

New York (CNN) -- A Serbian basketball player accused in the near fatal beating of a fellow student at a New York university has reached a plea deal the day after his trial was to begin in Serbia, according to attorneys connected to the case.

Miladin Kovacevic was accused of beating 24-year-old Bryan Steinhauer into a coma outside a bar at Binghamton University, the school both attended. Kovacevic had been a player on the school's basketball team. After making bail shortly after the beating, Kovacevic fled to Serbia with the assistance of a Serbian diplomat. The Serbian government eventually paid $900,000 to the Steinhauer family, but the prosecution of Kovacevic continued with heavy pressure coming from the United States government and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Kovacevic faced eight years in jail but under the deal, will plead guilty and receive two years and three months for assault. Additional charges regarding unlawful flight will be dismissed if he cooperates in the prosecution of the two Serbian officials who are charged with assisting him in unlawfully fleeing the United States.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed and the deal is contingent on approval from the judge on September 27. Serbian prosecutors asked the Steinhauer family for their blessing on the deal but the family refused, according to family attorney Irwin Rochman. Rochman tells CNN the Steinhauer family is extremely disappointed and thinks the sentence is far too lenient.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said, "The punishment does not fit the crime, this was a dastardly deed that almost killed Bryan Steinhauer. His injuries and suffering are worth more than two years."

In 2009 when he was released from the hospital after intensive surgery and therapy, Steinhauer said he does not hate Kovacevic. "I am not full of hate, hatred kills progress," he said. Appearing alongside his parents and doctors at New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital, Steinhauer struggled to speak, but his message was clear. "Please don't feel sorry for me, tragedy leads to wisdom and this experience has taught me so much about life." Steinahauer was about to graduate and had a job lined up at accounting giant KPMG when he got into an argument that nearly cost him his life.

Witnesses told police that Steinhauer and Kovacevic exchanged harsh words at an upstate New York bar near Binghamton University after Steinhauer danced with the girlfriend of one of Kovacevic's friends. The fight moved outside the bar where several men attacked Steinhauer, with Kovacevic beating him about the head, witnesses said. Kovacevic was 6-feet-9 and 260 pounds at the time of the fight, while Steinhauer was 130 pounds.

Kovacevic was arrested but jumped bail and fled to Serbia with the help of Serbian consular officials in New York. The case strained relations between the United States and Serbia. Hillary Clinton intervened, first as U.S. senator and later as secretary of state, as did Sen. Charles Schumer, to make sure Kovacevic was prosecuted.

Recently, the Serbian government paid the Steinhauer family $900,000 in recognition of the misconduct of Serbian government officials and the financial burdens placed upon the Steinhauer family as a result of the beating. The district attorney of Broome County, where the beating took place, met with Serbian government officials and assisted them with their prosecution of Kovacevic. Serbia has no extradition treaty with the United States.

Steinhauer awoke from his coma in August 2008, three months after the beating that left him with skull fractures and a severe brain injury. He weighed less than 100 pounds, could not speak or walk, and was fed through a tube, doctors said Wednesday.

"He had hemorrhages and contusions affecting almost every lobe of his brain," said Dr. Brian Greenwald. Steinhauer worked on his recovery with specialists and with the love and support of his family. When leaving the hospital in April of 2009 Steinhauer said he doesn't think about Kovacevic.

"I've had a second birth and raising at Mt. Sinai," he said "Live long and prosper."