A former Serb college basketball player has started serving his two-year prison term after being sentenced for beating an American student into a coma, the case that had strained U.S.-Serbia relations, a court said Friday.
The 23-year-old law student, Miladin Kovacevic, was sentenced by a Belgrade court in November for severely beating fellow Binghampton University student Bryan Steinhauer, of Brooklyn, New York, in May 2008 in a barroom brawl.
Kovacevic arrived at the prison in the northern town of Sombor on Thursday, the local court said.
He was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, but has two years left to serve because he had already spent three months in detention in the U.S. and Serbia. Serbian courts also granted Kovacevic a delay in starting to serve his sentence to take university exams.
After the brawl, Kovacevic jumped bail in the U.S. and fled to Serbia, which refused to hand him over, citing its laws that ban extradition. This angered Washington, raising tensions in relations.
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 both have described the sentence against Kovacevic as too lenient.
The assault in upstate New York had left Steinhauer with skull fractures and a severe brain injury. Kovacevic managed to flee the U.S. thanks to fake Serbian travel documents he obtained from Serbian diplomats in New York.
The two diplomats are on trial in Belgrade for issuing the passport.
Kovacevic's lawyer Borivoje Borovic told The Associated Press that his client could ask for early release after serving two-thirds of the sentence.