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Miladin Kovacevic Sentenced: Serb Court Gives Student 2 Years, 3 Mos In Beating

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BELGRADE, Serbia — A Belgrade court sentenced a former Serb college basketball player Monday to two years and three months in jail for beating an American student into a coma, in a case that has strained U.S.-Serbia relations.

Miladin Kovacevic reached a plea bargain with the prosecution in September. The sentencing followed the court's approval of the deal.

The 23-year-old was charged in the U.S. with beating fellow Binghamton University student Bryan Steinhauer in a bar in May 2008. Kovacevic jumped bail and fled to Serbia, which refused to hand him over the U.S., citing local laws banning extradition.

The Serbian government eventually paid $900,000 to Steinhauer's family as part of an agreement that also called for putting Kovacevic on trial in Belgrade.

The Obama administration and Steinhauer's family have said they were disappointed with the plea deal and the proposed sentence was too lenient. Kovacevic could have faced up to eight years in prison had he gone on trial.

He could start serving his sentence within weeks. He had already spent three months in detention in the U.S. and Serbia, which means he has two years left to serve.

Steinhauer had the right to appeal the plea bargain, but he did not, the Belgrade court said.

Judge Ivana Ramic said Kovacevic was sentenced for "inflicting severe bodily harm" on Steinhauer. The charges for obtaining fake Serbian travel documents to jump bail in the U.S. were dropped under the plea bargain, she said.

Under the agreement, Kovacevic pleaded guilty to beating Steinhauer in a dispute over the girlfriend of one Kovacevic's friends. The assault, in upstate New York, left Steinhauer with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.

(This version CORRECTS that bar beating was in May 2008.)

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