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A Chinese court has reduced the prison sentence for former college football player and American citizen Wendell Brown from four years to three for his involvement in a bar fight, a rights monitoring group said Wednesday.

Brown, a native of Detroit who played for Ball State University in Indiana, had been teaching English and American football in southwest China when he was arrested in September 2016 and charged with intentional assault. He denied hitting a man at a bar and said he was defending himself after being attacked.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation said Brown will be transferred from a detention center to a prison in the southwestern city of Chongqing, from where he can then apply for early release. He is now due to be set free on Sept. 24, 2019.

The court issued no official statement and an assistant judge in the case, reached by phone, directed inquiries to the court's management office, which did not immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment.

Brown, 31, was convicted on June 28 and his reduction in sentence is one of an estimated 15 percent of appeals that are successful in China, Dui Hua said. Friends, family and supporters had hoped he would be immediately deported, as is allowed under Chinese law.

"While this is not the result we hoped for it is nevertheless the best that could be achieved," the group's executive director, John Kamm, said in an emailed statement.

"I salute the team of legal advisers and friends who have worked tirelessly to bring Wendell home. Dui Hua acknowledges the sympathetic handling of the case by the appellate judges in Chongqing," Kamm said.

Michigan and U.S. officials have lobbied China on Brown's behalf and hundreds of people have donated to a GoFundMe account to help in his case, Dui Hua said.

Brown was the only person prosecuted over the Sept. 25, 2016, incident in a Chongqing bar, which the court concluded Brown had not initiated, Dui Hua said. Witnesses said Brown was being harassed by other patrons. However, the court ruled that he "didn't do enough to de-escalate the situation," the group said.

The sentence reduction was based on apologies and expressions of forgiveness between Brown and others involved and Brown's payment of 200,000 yuan ($28,750) in compensation, Dui Hua said.

Brown was also allowed to make a 15-minute video call to his mother, Antoinette, in Detroit. "He was in characteristic good spirits and appeared healthy," Dui Hua reported.

Brown was a linebacker at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, and later played for the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Swarco Raiders in Austria. At the time of his arrest, he was in China helping coach the Chongqing Dockers, part of an amateur league seeking to establish American football in China. He is the father of an 11-year-old boy.

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