Serbian hearings in attack on NY student to start

AP News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2009 12:46 PM

Pretrial hearings in the case of a Serb accused of beating a fellow student into a coma in the United States will begin in December, a Serbian court said Thursday.

Miladin Kovacevic, a 23-year-old former basketball player at Binghamton University, jumped bail and fled the U.S. last year after being accused of assaulting Bryan Steinhauer in a Binghamton bar in May 2008. Kovacevic was provided with emergency travel documents by Serbian diplomats in New York

A Belgrade district court said in a statement that witnesses to the brawl will testify from the U.S. on Dec. 1 via a video link. The statement did not say whether the closed-door hearings would also include Steinhauer.

The case had strained relations between the United States and Serbia. Hillary Rodham Clinton intervened, first as a U.S. senator and later as secretary of state, as did U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, to make sure Kovacevic was prosecuted.

The 260-pound (118-kilogram) Kovacevic was accused of assaulting the 130-pound (59-kilogram) Steinhauer in a Binghamton bar, in upstate New York, repeatedly kicking him in the chest and head.

Witnesses told New York police that the two men exchanged harsh words after Steinhauer danced with the girlfriend of one of Kovacevic's friends.

The beating fractured Steinhauer's skull and left him with a severe brain injury. Now 23, he awoke from his coma in August 2008, three months after the beating.

The Serbian government has paid the Steinhauer family $900,000 (euro600,000) as part of a deal to prosecute Kovacevic in Serbia. Since the attack, Kovacevic has lived freely in Serbia, training with a local basketball team and advocating an anti-Western political party.

Sanel Softic, a Bosnian man accused along with Kovacevic and another man in the near-fatal beating, has pleaded guilty in New York to felony assault.