SB Nation

Flinder Boyd | August 6, 2014

A night without end

Over two years later, everyone involved is still seeking closure after basketball player Kimani Ffriend hit and killed a young woman in Serbia

Kimani Ffriend, tall and lean, idled the gray Skoda Fabia car that struggled to contain his 6’11 frame and leaned out of the window toward Johny, his closest Serbian friend.

"Where should I park?" Kimani asked from the driver’s seat, his booming Jamaican accent sugarcoating each word.

It was 10:45 p.m. on a Friday and Ffriend was looking forward to a night out, to mark the end of a difficult period of his life with a celebration.

At age 35, It was likely his last chance to earn a big contract and cap off his professional career.

"What about that spot over there?" Johny said from the backseat of a chauffeured SUV. Kimani looked over at the lone strip of curbed sidewalk designated for loading only.

"Man," Kimani shook his head slightly. "I don’t know."

Kimani had been hanging around Belgrade for the last three months while authorities processed his Serbian citizenship application. On Monday, he would finally be able to go to the police station and collect his passport, allowing him to leave the country later in the week and accept an offer to play in the top basketball league in Spain. At age 35, it was likely his last chance to earn a big contract and cap off his professional career.

Wind whistled through the quiet street and rain beat down on his car. Kimani hesitated, weighing the penalty if he left his car outside Johny’s place. Again, Johny called from the car, "What do you want to do?" Kimani breathed out, then turned the steering wheel and pointed the car toward the empty spot. The chauffeur noticed the indecision and turned toward Johny.

"Hey Kimani," Johny said. "The driver told me it’s risky, you might get towed. You should follow us."

Across town, Nevena Dragutinovic exhaled slowly. Her twin sister Jovana was texting her and pleading for her to come out and party. Their friends Alexander and Milosh were in town celebrating Alexander’s recent acceptance into university and they wanted the sisters to join them.

Tall and thin, with blond silky hair, Nevena sank into her couch and turned on the TV. With her fiancée away in Vienna, Austria, after a long week of work she finally had the apartment to herself. She just wanted to curl up and watch a movie.

She stared at her vibrating phone for a moment. She finally picked it up and heard the pleas of her normally shy sister. She flipped off the TV and then reluctantly walked toward her bedroom to find an outfit for the night.

When Kimani walked into Frans, a popular local restaurant, he smiled wide and greeted almost every person there with some of the little Serbian he knew.

serbia Kimani Ffriend playing for the Greenville Groove of the NBDL in 2002. (Getty Images)

He wasn't quite a celebrity, but many recognized him. He had only played one season in Belgrade with the club KK FMP Beograd (and had a brief trial with two other teams), but he had married a Serbian woman and during the offseason, he often stayed in town. An athletic prodigy, he left his native Jamaica at just 17 after showing promise on the basketball court. He went to a series of high schools and junior colleges in the U.S. before excelling at the University of Nebraska.

A post player with sprinter's speed, NBA teams were intrigued by his potential. He went undrafted, but played both in the Developmental League and overseas, and kept trying to make the NBA; in four different seasons he was cut just a day or two before the season started. Once, in 2001, with the Heat, he signed a non-guaranteed long-term contract, and management had hopes he could flourish as Alonzo Mourning's understudy. However, just before the season started, he suffered a stress fracture and the team voided his contract. He rehabbed in Miami and the team kept him around, then when he was ready to re-sign and play in his first NBA game, they let him go for good.

So instead of playing in the NBA, for the next 12 years he became a basketball gypsy, his bags always packed; always chasing a slippery dream. He suited up for no less than 25 different teams, across 18 countries from Iran to Germany to Colombia to South Korea, Russia and China. He had moments of domination, but never the consistency to play for the top teams abroad. After he had a falling out over the severity of an injury with Nebosja Covic, the influential club president of KK FMP (and former Prime Minister of Serbia after Zoran Djindjic was assassinated), other Serbian teams, unwilling to cross Covic, shied away from Kimani.

Over the last few weeks, as Kimani awaited his Serbian citizenship paperwork, he had begun to understand that he would never become the player he had once envisioned himself to be, and that realization was beginning to eat away at him. Nevertheless, he had stayed in shape, knowing that Monday would bring a new opportunity.

Nevena and her friends looked for a place to have a drink in the beautiful center of Belgrade, where tree-lined streets splice out like veins across the old town. When she walked into the bar, all eyes turned toward her. She was radiant, she always was. With her soothing charm, she could control a room without trying.

"Live your life," Nevena would tell her. Following her own advice, Nevena was the ultimate success story.

She sat down next to her twin sister and smiled. Nevena loved Jovana, she more than loved her; one couldn’t function without the other, two bodies for one soul. Their father had abandoned them long ago for another family and their mother had died of breast cancer when they were just 18. Nevena had looked after Jovana ever since, the more timid and passive of the sisters.

"Live your life," Nevena would tell her. Following her own advice, Nevena was the ultimate success story. She borrowed money and worked grueling hours to put herself through school, then transitioned from cleaning tables and serving drinks to become a senior account executive for the biggest marketing firm in Belgrade, all this, despite the sputtering Serbian economy, before her 30th birthday.

Inside the bar, the sisters and their two friends had much to celebrate. In a country with so much instability, they had endured and were beginning to thrive. As the clock moved well past midnight they lifted their glasses up high, "Ziveli!" — cheers.

By 3 a.m., Kimani had followed Johny and driven to Fabrika, a euro-style dance club blaring techno-pop, and ordered bottle service. After drinking a few screwdrivers filled halfway with vodka, Kimani got a text from a friend who was across town at another club. I have a table, there’s lot of girls, it read, Come meet me. Kimani hesitated. It was late and raining and he knew he should probably go back to his apartment. The club, though, was not far off his route to his home in New Belgrade, across the river. He could stop by briefly, he thought, and bid farewell to his friend before going to Spain. Kimani put his drink down and headed toward the door.

Usually Kimani was cautious while drinking, and was often the designated driver, or at least the responsible driver. While growing up in Jamaica he had lost two good friends to drunk driving in the span of a few months. Another time, when he was away at boarding school, local police showed up at his father’s door in Kingston holding a death certificate and his father nearly fainted. The police however, were looking for the parents of Ian, a neighbor, who had been driving home after celebrating the birth of his first child and smashed into an oncoming car, slicing it in half. The driver of the other car was a close friend, someone Ian had seen only hours earlier at the party. They both died on impact.

Nevena loved to dance. As the electronic music blared out of the speakers, she shut her eyes and tilted her head back. The bass line surged through the club’s speakers.

As night reached toward morning, the four friends collected their coats and made for the exit. Outside they ducked their heads away from the downpour, huddling close together on the curb, looking into a slow stream of car lights as they waited for a taxi.

When they finally hailed a cab and climbed inside, Nevena sat in the backseat with her sister and looked out of the window as they passed Republic Square. Before the First Serbian Uprising that won the country independence, their Ottoman overlords conducted public beheadings there. It is also near where president Slobodan Milosevic, presiding over a splintering Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, stood up and exalted the perceived superiority of the Serbian people. "We are the most European of all Nations!" he would scream toward the cheering masses.

His ideal of a pure and great Serbia helped spark a genocidal war across the region. In Nevena’s hometown of Zvornik in Bosnia more than 4,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered and thousands of Bosnian Serbs fled in fear, including Nevena and her family, who crossed the border overnight into Serbia , becoming refugees, their lives irretrievably ruptured.

Years later, the memories of the evil that sliced her hometown in half like a heavy guillotine would haunt her. In a series of poems, she wrote about looking at her 10-year-old self, standing on the bridge overlooking the Drina River that separates Bosnia and Serbia, and watching her innocence tumble onto the rocks below.

Again, in 2003, thousands marched to this square in despair. The Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, a reformer and the hope of the nation, had been assassinated in cold blood and mourners stood shoulder for shoulder and ached for what could have been. In Serbia, it seems as if great promise has always been followed by even greater tragedy.

As the rain turned to drizzle, Kimani adjusted his windshield wipers. The streets were nearly empty and he kept his radio off. He liked the silence of the city at night. He could think and he could begin to process his feelings. Recently his wife, Danica, had moved out of their place in Belgrade and they were barely speaking. He tried to keep up appearances around town because he was always the fun guy with the sharp sense of humor; someone they could all rely on, but the act was wearing him down. Inside he was crumbling.

The act was wearing him down. Inside he was crumbling.

He met Danica the first time he was in Serbia, at age 26. She didn’t speak English and his Serbian was nonexistent so he would carry a dictionary everywhere he went to help with translations. They avoided empty small talk. He began to understand her simply through observation. He noted how she would sweetly interact with other people, how she patiently smiled while he stumbled through each Serbian word and how she intuitively knew when to hold his hand and when to let it go. Just from watching, he felt like he understood her more than anyone else he had ever known, and he soon fell in love.

As he traveled the globe playing basketball and time and distance pushed him further and further from his hometown in Jamaica, she became his home. When he turned north onto Francuska Street, toward the club, he became lost in thoughts of his wife. He breathed deeply; he didn’t know how to let her go.

serbiaNevena Dragutinovic, right, with her fiance Neven Zivancevic. (Courtesy of In Vivo)

As Nevena’s taxi headed south on Francuska, perhaps she thought about her fiancée. They met six years earlier, he was two years younger than she was and an inch shorter and often came by the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. He told her he was into music, that he sang and wrote lyrics. They shared the same name, his the masculine version of hers, Neven. "See, we’re meant to be," he exclaimed.

They would tell each other about their dreams, and as if each was holding up a megaphone to the world, they came true.

At first, she only smiled politely, but eventually his persistence paid off and they began dating. They would tell each other about their dreams, and as if each was holding up a megaphone to the world, they came true. Nevena graduated from university and fought her way up the corporate ladder. He had a hit record in Serbia, then another and was soon traveling all over eastern and central Europe, playing his songs and touring with his band, In Vivo.

The taxi passed the National Theatre, and the army headquarters. A few blocks away is the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, just beyond that, in Kalemegdan Park, sits a statue of Stevan the Tall, a 15th Century Serbian prince and founder of the medieval royal sect the Order of the Dragon. Stevan the Tall chose the Ouroboros; the serpent that eats its own tail, then replenishes itself continuously, as the symbol of the sect, but it has also come to represent the soul of Serbia, the constant rise and fall of its people throughout history.

Before Neven went to sleep, he texted Nevena from Austria, where he was on tour, and said he couldn’t wait to see her the next day. They had decided to marry and needed to plan for their wedding. When the taxi descended the hill, toward the banks of the Danube, Nevena tapped the taxi driver on the shoulder and asked him if he could stop. It had been a long night. She had a lot to drink, and before heading home, she wanted to grab something to eat. Up ahead, just before the next road, was Pekara, a bakery that was open late.

As Kimani neared the intersection of Francuska and another major street, Cara Dusana, where Francuska Street begins to slope upward, the windows of his car began to steam up. The rainstorm had knocked out the streetlights, so the intersection was nearly dark, lit only by a stream of light beaming down from the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral looming over his right shoulder, and the flashing yellow traffic lights at the intersection.

On unfamiliar roads, he wasn’t exactly sure where he was. He cruised through a stop sign, then ignored the flashing yellow lights and pulled into the intersection. Tiny droplets of light reflected off the puddles on the ground. He began to turn left on Cara Dusana, then slowed, and looked further down the street into near-darkness.

His mind, impaired by the alcohol, perhaps, and distracted by the rain and swirling thoughts of his future, sent him forward, up the hill, straight on Francuska.

There is some question as to whether the taxi double parked on the right side of Francuska and Nevena opened the left rear door into the street, or if the taxi driver turned right and pulled over, away from traffic. The details, however, are just details.

The rain has almost stopped. Nevena walks into the street toward Pekara, the equivalent of half a bottle of whiskey in her system. She pulls out her phone as she steps to cross the street, checking for messages, perhaps from Neven.

serbiaPekara, the bakery where Nevena had the taxi stop, near the intersection where the accident happened.

Kimani drives at about 50 kilometers per hour — 30 miles per hour — up Francuska, and across Cara Dusana Street. Over the tram tracks and through the intersection, he is suddenly struck by the sharp beam of a pair of headlights; maybe from the taxi, maybe another car. He cannot remember and no one is sure. But then, as he moves forward, he glimpses a moving shadow to his left. Instinctively he swerves sharply to the right and a shiver shoots through his body.

In his dreams, nothing happens. He drives up the street, the rain stops, the steam clears up and he floats just off the ground back to his apartment, and he goes to sleep; so soundly he begins snoring. The shadowy figure orders a burek, a pastry, at the bakery, returns to the taxi and it drives away: Two strangers slipping past each other in the night.

He remembers that their eyes meet for a millisecond, locked on each other, and then she disappears, an apparition.

Nevena never sees the car. Her front leg clips the Skoda near the left headlight and she flies up into the air. She lands on his hood, against the windshield as Kimani takes his foot off the gas. He remembers that their eyes meet for a millisecond, locked on each other, and then she disappears, an apparition. The impact is so sudden, so unexpected — he can't be sure what happened. His thoughts begin racing uncontrollably, one numbing, relentless blur. The Skoda, as if driving itself, stops a few hundred feet up the street. He steps out and looks down toward the intersection. He can't see anything. "Maybe," he thinks, "maybe it's OK."

Kimani starts to walk slowly down the hill. As he does, he notices money strewn across the pavement, then the outline of something near the sidewalk. He leans in to see what it is. When he realizes he's looking at a woman's body, his eyes widen and he rushes toward her.

Inside the taxi, Jovana, Alexander and Milosh, are listening to music and waiting for Nevena. The driver of the taxi begins to wonder what's taking so long, looks in his rearview mirror, and notices commotion behind him. He tells one of the boys to go check it out. Jovana however, knows. Before anyone tells her, she feels in her gut that something dreadful has happened and she dashes out of the car.

Kimani pulls the girl on the ground toward him, and checks her pulse. Three heartbeats, two strong ones, and then a third one, soft.

Jovana sees her sister on the ground and begins screaming. Kimani sprints up the hill toward his car, backs up, and stops next to the fallen girl. He tries to pick her up and put her in the car, but she is heavy. Two men see him struggle and rush over from a nearby bus stop to help, grabbing her legs and laying her in his backseat. Jovana opens the rear door and sits next to her sister. Alexander and Milosh arrive, and one jumps in the front seat.

More people begin walking toward the scene from the bakery, form a crowd, and peer into the Skoda as Kimani jumps in the front seat. The backdoor of the car, however, is being held open. "The ambulance is coming," someone says. "Wait for the ambulance."

Kimani frantically screams, "WE CAN'T WAIT! WE HAVE TO GO NOW!"

The police arrive first. Seven or eight cops surround Kimani. They ask him questions. His breathing is becoming labored, he struggles to form sentences. He looks down at the girl. Her head, sliced open with a large gash, is hanging over the edge of the rear car seat into the open air.

Time slows, a fog rolls in. The ambulance still hasn't come. Everything begins to run together ...

An hour later Kimani sits in a hospital room. A nurse is extracting blood to check his alcohol levels and treat him for shock. Many of the people he saw from the street are scattered around the waiting room. He sees crying, and consoling hugs. He knows the girl is dead.

But she isn't, is she? In his haze, he thinks he sees her on the far side of the room. The shape of the body and the face are the same, she's sitting up on a gurney with an IV in her arm. He walks toward her, and begins to smile — then his heart sinks so far he almost stops breathing. It is her twin, Jovana. The girl is gone.

He takes another step then reaches down for the sister's hand. She looks up, tears cascading down her face.

"I'm sorry," he says, his bottom lip quivering. "I'm sorry."

* * *

Through a black door pushed back from the street and up a steep flight of stairs, I walk into an open foyer of an apartment with a row of windows looking down onto the street. Further ahead is a large, but dark living room, and behind that are two bedrooms and a bathroom. Somehow, the apartment seems to feel both oppressive and spacious.

A tall man with red shorts enters the foyer and extends his long bony hand. There is a black device firmly attached around his ankle.

If found guilty, he's facing a sentence of two to 12 years back in a Serbian prison. serbia Ffriend in his Belgrade apartment.

This is the Belgrade home of Kimani Ffriend. Charged with vehicular manslaughter, he is impatiently waiting for a judge to decide his culpability in the death of Nevena Dragutinovic. By the time we meet, 20 months have passed since the accident, and his case has been dragging on and on. It is late May 2014, and in another seven weeks, he has been told, he is supposed to learn his fate. If found guilty, he's facing a sentence of two to 12 years back in a Serbian prison.

He has already spent 10 months incarcerated, and was released on house arrest only after he believed another inmate was about to attack him with a knife. Guards charged his cell and found Kimani, towering over his cellmates, rage in his eyes, squeezing a long shard of glass from a broken mirror and screaming, "If you want to take me, I'm going to take one of you all with me!"

At a circular table, I sit down next to Kimani and Tintor Jugoslav, his lawyer. The attorney gives me a sly half-smile, his face round and his eyes sharp and focused. The day before, I stopped by the courthouse and asked if anyone knew about the Ffriend case. An attorney almost shuddered when I mentioned that Jugoslav was defending Ffriend. "He doesn't lose," he told me. "He's the devil's lawyer." Jugoslav gained his reputation defending hooligans of the popular sports club, Red Star Belgrade, charged with violent crimes against other fans. He was recommended to Kimani by the Jamaican consulate.

Before I ask any questions and before we even exchange pleasantries, Kimani excitedly begins talking, his deep Jamaican accent bouncing off the walls. He has been on the other side of his front door for only a total of 24 hours in the last 10 months. Occasionally, some of his friends from town stop by to drop off food, or say hello, but his interactions with the outside world are limited. His voice rises as he speaks, jumping from anecdotes about his upbringing in Kingston, to his basketball career, then, always, over and over again, to "the night of the incident," as he calls it. Everything always weaves its way back to that rainy night some 20 months before when life stopped.

Soon his lawyer gets up and leaves. I'm left alone with Kimani.

"The first few nights were the worst," he starts, shaking his head. From the hospital, he was taken to a small cell in the local police station to await his initial hearing. Inside he was alone, with nothing but a toilet, an oppressive yellow light, and a wooden bench. He was never given anything to eat, and couldn't sleep. His wife and mother-in-law stopped by later that weekend and brought him food, but he could barely hold it down, "I couldn't think about anything else other than the girl," he said.

When he finally saw a judge, he was denied bail as a flight risk. Then he was handcuffed and driven to the most notorious prison in Serbia — Centralni Zatvor. Inside, he was placed in what's known as "Block Zero." It's where the worst of the worst, where the rapists and murderers and the hardcore criminals from the most awful circumstances are piled on top of each other in putrid conditions, without hot water, and barely edible food, confined by their own rage and preying on one another.

As he walked through the prison, a silence came over the jail and all heads turned. "I was the only black man in the whole prison," he said. When he arrived in his cell, eight hardened criminals packed tightly into the crumbling room glanced up and gritted their teeth. Reports of the accident had been all over the local newspapers, which are passed around the prison until the pages fall apart.

The one man inside "Block Zero" who spoke English stood up in front of Kimani. His eyes betrayed nothing. Then he spoke.

"We know you didn't mean to kill her," he said, then looked around the room at the other men, who looked back blankly. "We're not going to beat you."

Kimani took off his shoes, curled up onto his worn out mattress, and looked up at the ceiling.

* * *

He sang for her and soon he had a top-10 hit in Serbia. serbia Neven Zivancevic (Courtesy of In Vivo)

Nevena's fiancé, Neven Zivancevic was born and raised in Belgrade, a scrawny kid who never stood out in school. In college, he declared he wanted to be a famous rapper. He attended a music academy, occasionally making songs with his best friend Igor, attending shows and dreaming of a future on stage.

When he met Nevena, his art met its muse. He stopped rapping and began composing songs, writing lyrics nonstop. He sang for her and soon he had a top-10 hit in Serbia.

Everything Neven did was for their relationship. He saved his royalties and concert appearance fees and surprised Nevena with a new car. They would often lie in bed for hours, imagining what their children would be like; beautiful like her, musical, like him, they'd say.

When she died, he collapsed. The death of the beautiful fiancée of a pop star in an accident with a foreign, professional athlete was big news. Her tragic death was all over local newspapers and magazines and Neven's pain became public.

At the funeral, Nevena was laid to rest next to her mother in the village of Pozega. Neven stood next to Jovana, they held each other up. Her voice cracking, she pleaded with the crowd: "Please, all of you, do not forget my sister," she said. "When you have trouble in life, remember my sister, it will be easier."

Neven clutched onto a framed photo of his fiancée and cursed the man who had hit her, "I wanted to kill him with my bare hands," he would later tell me.

"I want him to pay for what he's done."

* * *

Kimani spent only one night in Block Zero. Because of his celebrity status, he was then was transferred to a different tower in Centralni Zatvor, known ironically as the "Hilton." Full of the white-collar criminals and high-powered crime bosses who came to typify Serbia after the Balkan wars, Kimani shared a floor with the richest man in Serbia; one of the orchestrators of the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic; a CEO of Agrobanka; the godfather of the most ruthless crime syndicate in the country; various war criminals awaiting extradition; and a popular local radio DJ, charged with extorting his listeners of thousands of dollars.

Kimani was an outsider. All the other prisoners were Serbian. Seeking something to cling to, he revived his childhood association with Christianity. He found comfort in reciting his favorite bible verse, Deuteronomy 8:31 "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

One of his cellmates, a notorious narco boss, would see him reading the bible and shout across the room, "God doesn't belong in here! He's not watching you!"

Kimani pulled inward. He would be walking toward the prison yard and see flashes of Nevena's face across his windshield, or the seconds watching her die in the backseat of his car. He wanted to know more about her, but he knew he couldn't handle the details of her life. If she became a complete person his guilt only increased. He tried to keep to himself and avoid his cellmates, but the conditions were so disheartening that no prisoners were allowed to be alone for fear of suicide.

He waited for visitors, but few came. Danica stopped by just once. They sat across a table from each other, she handed him some clothes and they exchanged a few words before she stood up. He watched as she turned and walked away.

One day Kimani walked into the common area where a small TV, the only one in the prison, is nailed into the wall. Onto the screen came a Serbian music video. Two men in suits were singing, a serious look on their faces. Another prisoner turned to Kimani. "They're talking about that girl you killed."

In Vivo, Neven’s group, had recorded a song entitled Zivot Unazad -- "Life Back" --dedicated to Nevena, his fallen love. The video is dark, sinister. Neven smashes an image of himself, lays on a bed with a gun in his hand as the Grim Reaper approaches. He seems unable to escape the darkness.

"What are they saying?" Kimani asked. Someone stumbled through a rough translation: "Some of the sorrows we never get over, when the heart breaks into pieces ... I would re-live the small number of years backward with you, forever in rewind."

While Kimani remained imprisoned, Neven returned to the road to tour and sing through his grief. His audience and popularity grew, but he was angry. He would look down at fans during shows as they sang along to his words with envy. They could leave and go home and laugh. Neven could not. Instead he went to his hotel room and would call Nevena's phone again and again just to hear her voice when her voicemail would pick up, locked into the moment before she died.

Kimani was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .098, described as "a moderate level of intoxication," the equivalent of 10 measured drinks over a four-hour period for a man of his size and weight. To pay for Jugoslav and his team of investigators and attorneys, Kimani sold his mini mansion outside Atlanta and his two cars. All his belongings were placed into storage. A few weeks later, the storage unit was broken into and Kimani was left with nothing.

Initially the police investigation pointed toward a lengthy prison sentence. A drunk driver ignoring flashing yellow lights and a stop sign at the corner of Francuska and Cara Dusana, and then hitting a pedestrian and tossing her 21 feet in the air? His guilt seemed obvious and irrefutable.

But after hiring Jugoslav, and the legal proceedings began, Kimani was given hope. Technically, his case hinged not on his level of intoxication, but whether he could have avoided the accident if he had been sober. The "Devil's Lawyer" argued that Kimani, driving at only about 50 kph in poor weather with limited visibility, while steering around illegally parked cars, had no chance. Besides, the girl was drunk, Jugoslav said in court, impaired herself. The incident could not have been avoided. It was an accident, a tragedy, but not a crime.

* * *

Like the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its tail indefinitely, Serbian history is marked by an unending loop of brief periods of peace and stability followed by war and bloodshed, never reaching a final resolution. There is always a foreboding sense that hope will always be overtaken by despair, and sometimes it seems that nothing will ever change this.

In 2013, the Serbian government implemented a new Criminal Procedure Code. It was meant to streamline the legal process, address the backlog of cases and help align the Serbian court system with others elsewhere in Europe. However, in practice, it also meant that all criminal proceedings already in process had to be retried. In January of 2014, after Kimani's trial had been going on for more than a year, after he had traveled back and forth to court and his attorneys had spent months arguing his case, after days of testimony from Jovana and other witnesses and mountains of evidence, everything came to a halt. Apart from any recorded depositions, the entire trial started again, from the beginning, from the night of Nov. 2, 2012.

Everyone involved was forced, once again, to relive the terrible moments of that night.

From January until midsummer, the proceedings slowly meandered toward a verdict as Kimani underwent trial for a second time. Everyone involved was forced, once again, to relive the terrible moments of that night. On July 18, 2014, the day the final ruling was to be announced, Kimani woke up before the sun rose, opened his Bible, sat on the floor of his apartment and began meditating; asking for mercy. Jovana also rose and prepared to head toward the court, her long vigil coming to an end.

Three hundred miles away, Neven was in Montenegro for a show. As the trial dragged on, he had done his best to avoid thinking about the verdict. He felt as if Nevena had been put on trial, her actions the night of her death scrutinized and placed under a microscope. The thought of being in the same courtroom as Kimani brought a wave of anger that was too much to bear. Neven just wanted his prolonged suffering to end, for Nevena's memory to be put to rest.

Over the last few months of the new trial, Jugoslav had pounced on possible inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the prosecution's case. Upon scrutiny, what had once seemed solid appeared less certain. Many of the witnesses on the street had not been interviewed. The crime scene hadn't been secured until hours after the accident, and Nevena's possessions appeared to have been moved or kicked down the street. And a key piece of evidence, whether or not the taxi may have been illegally double-parked, both affecting Kimani's vision and sending Nevena out into the middle of the street when she got out of the taxi, was unknown. The taxi driver left the scene before police arrived, and the veracity of his testimony was in dispute.

There are no jury trials in Serbia; a judge alone would decide Kimani's guilt or innocence.

That morning, Kimani arrived at the courtroom dressed in a crisp dark suit and stood next to Jugoslav. In his sweaty hand, he held a final statement, which he was preparing to read to the judge: "Words cannot express the regret I have. All I can offer now is prayers and ask the lord to continue to comfort the family ... I ask the court to look at the facts and the evidence without bias and with good conscience under the law, to make the right decision which the court deems fair."

On the other side of the room, Jovana looked ahead stoically. On her back were the words Nevena had spoken to her so many times, tattooed in English: "Live your life." Kimani looked toward her, but she avoided his gaze. In Montenegro, Neven checked his phone, repeatedly, searching for news updates, hoping the trial would finally end, that Kimani would be found guilty.

The judge settled into her seat and ordered quiet. Family and journalists pushed into the courtroom while even more media waited outside. Kimani wore an earpiece and listened to the proceeding via a translator, his understanding lagging behind the judge's words.

The judge finished her opening remarks, but before Kimani heard the translation, a murmur went throughout the courtroom. Jugoslav jumped out of his seat.

He was furious. The judge had ruled that the defense could speak for only 30 minutes — including the time it would take to translate their remarks, meaning they would have only 15 minutes to summarize the evidence and plead their case.

"You have pre-judged my client!" the attorney roared. He then berated the judge and demanded her resignation from the case, effective immediately.

The audience looked on befuddled, the judge demanded silence and tried to restore order, but the cycle had already begun.

The courtroom turned chaotic. The judge pounded her gavel. Pending a hearing into her own actions, court was dismissed. This would be followed by an August recess, then a full review of the case. Twenty months after Nevena's death on a wet street in Belgrade, there would be no verdict.

Kimani walked out of the courtroom and returned to his home on house arrest. Jovana left the court in silence, she'd have to return in the fall. Neven put his phone away in disgust and prepared for another concert.

Their lives intertwined, all of them still thinking of Nevena, and a dark night without end, forever in rewind.

* * *

Update: According to Ffriend, after the publication of this story, his case was taken up by the Jamaican Ministry of Justice, who asked Serbian authorities for leniency.

On September 5th, 2014, Ffriend, facing up to 12 years or imprisonment, was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter. He received a three-year prison sentence with credit for two years already served.

However, as the standard process for appeals has yet to start, and the judge has not forwarded an explanation for the sentence to a higher court, Ffriend remains under house arrest in an apartment in Belgrade.

Producer: Chris Mottram | Editor: Glenn Stout | Copy Editor: Kevin Fixler | Title Photo: Getty Images

About the Author

Flinder Boyd is a former professional basketball player who played 10 years in Europe. He holds degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of London, Queen Mary and his writing has appeared in The Classical, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, Newsweek and BBC online among others. His story for SB Nation Longform "20 Minutes at Rucker Park" will appear in "The Best American Sports Writing 2014." He can be found at and @FlinderBoyd.