Foreign gov't helps suspect leave U.S.

June 25, 2008 2:35:59 PM PDT
A Broome County grand jury has raised criminal charges against a fugitive Serb and two co-defendants accused in a near-fatal beating of a man in a downtown Binghamton bar.Now, the hunt for the suspect has turned into an international incident. Miladin Kovacevic has reportedly left the country with the help of a foreign government. The FBI is now involved, issuing an arrest warrant for Kovacevic and searching overseas for the 20-year-old.

The State Department tells Eyewitness News that they are in contact with Serbian officials to figure out how this all happened. New York's senior senator is accusing the Serbian government in being complicit in helping the suspect get out of the country before he had to face serious felony charges.

Every day, the parents of 22-year-old Bryan Steinhauer sit by his bedside in an agonizing vigil, wondering if he he will ever see another day. Police say they know who beat him into a coma and arrested the suspects. And that's where the story takes a strange twist.

The young victim had his whole life ahead of him. But suddenly, it was snatched away in a brutal, one-sided barroom brawl. Steinhauer was a student at Binghamton University who was beaten nearly to death by three men on May 4. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Kovacevic, a Serbian national in this country to play basketball and go to college at Binghamton, was indicted as the main assailant. He was held in jail until someone at the Serbian consulate guaranteed his $100,000 bail. Two days later, Kovacevic was gone.

"There is no doubt this was a blatant thumbing of the nose of our law by the Serbian government," Senator Charles Schumer said.

Schumer is outraged by the Serbian government's involvement in the case. Kovacevic had his passport confiscated by the court as a condition of his bail, and he was ordered to stay in Broome County.

But the consulate issued an emergency passport for Kovacevic, which the sophomore used at Newark Airport to flee the country, first to Germany, then home to Serbia.

"There's something really rotten at the Serbian embassy," Schumer said. "They aided and abetted a real criminal to get out of this country after our law enforcement said they wanted to prosecute him here."

Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen said Kovacevic and two others were each indicted on a felony count of first-degree assault and first-degree gang assault. If Kovacevic ever returns to Broome County, he'll face a mandatory five to 25 years in prison.

"Only with the complicity of the Serbian government could he have gotten out of the country," Schumer said. "They gave him this emergency passport, and they knew exactly what the problem was, because they posted bail for him. So they can't claim to have not known the problem."

Steinhauer remains in a coma at a Long Island hospital, and he may never wake up. He went to Stuyvesant High School and had just graduated magna cum laude from Binghamton.

Now, Steinahuer's skull is fractured and he has bleeding on the brain. His heartbroken parents don't want to believe their son's attacker may never be extradited back to the U.S. to answer for his actions.

"I am waiting for our government to tell the Serbians, in the strictest language, they better turn over this kid quickly or there will be severe consequences," Schumer said.


STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporters Jim Dolan and Nina Pineda