WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian jail for drug-smuggling

Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki metropolis courtroom delivered the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She stated the courtroom took under consideration Griner’s partial act of contrition, regret for the deed, state of well being and charitable actions. Prosecutors had requested that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner stated. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that, that is far from this courtroom.

“I need to say once more that I had no intent on breaking any Russian legal guidelines. I had no intent. I didn’t conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she added.

After the sentence, Griner told a CNN producer as she left court, “I like my household.”

The verdict comes about six months after the 31-year-old was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.

Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement they will appeal the decision and criticized the court for ignoring their evidence. They have 10 days to appeal.

“We are very disenchanted by the decision. As authorized professionals, we consider that the courtroom ought to be truthful to everybody no matter nationality. The courtroom utterly ignored all of the proof of the protection, and most significantly, the responsible plea,” they said in the statement. “This contradicts the prevailing authorized apply. Taking under consideration the quantity of the substance (to not point out the defects of the experience) and the plea, the decision is totally unreasonable. We will definitely file an attraction.”

Speaking outside court, Boykov said that the average time in jail for this type of crime is five years, adding that almost a third of those convicted get parole.

Griner “is just not doing effective right now,” said Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm. The defense team is hopeful that Griner will be able to talk to her family next week. Blagovolina added that Griner will return to the detention center where she is being held.

Sentence comes amid tense US-Russia relations

The harsh sentence comes amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the nation’s saber-rattling with the US and Europe. The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and US officials have offered a potential prisoner swap with Russia in an try and carry her house safely.
Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, stated the sentence was a “miscarriage of justice,” and US President Joe Biden said the lengthy sentence was “unacceptable.”
Joe Biden calls Brittney Griner's sentence 'unacceptable'

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner obtained a jail sentence that’s yet one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I name on Russia to launch her instantly so she may be along with her spouse, family members, mates, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence “places a highlight on our vital issues with Russia’s authorized system and the Russian authorities’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its personal agenda, utilizing people as political pawns.”

He said the US is working to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. “This is an absolute precedence of mine and the Department’s,” Blinken stated.

It’s now “as much as the Russian aspect” on whether or not Griner’s conviction opens new doorways for negotiations of a prisoner swap, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby stated.

“We’re nonetheless open to having our proposal significantly and positively thought of, and if on the Russian aspect which means they really feel like they’re extra empowered to try this, then so be it,” Kirby told reporters in Thursday’s White House briefing.

Kirby reiterated the US position remains that it wants Russia to “take the deal on the desk as a result of it is a good one, it is a truthful one, and it will assist carry Paul and Brittney house.”

CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall said the harsh sentence was not a surprise and argued that Russia’s court proceedings are not legitimate.

“This is all efficiency in Russia. There was by no means any doubt as to what was going to occur,” he said. “What Vladimir Putin is attempting to do is principally drive up the bargaining value of Ms. Griner.”

Last week, CNN reported that the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, providing to launch a convicted Russian arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, in trade for Griner and Whelan. Russian officers countered the US offer, multiple sources familiar with the discussions have said, but US officials did not accept the request as a legitimate counteroffer.

The Kremlin warned Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will not help negotiations for a prisoner exchange involving Griner. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believes these talks should be “discrete.”

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, played the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night. Before the game, the teams held a 42-second moment of silence as players linked arms. Near the end of the tribute, spectators started chanting, “Bring her house! Bring her house!” Griner, a six-time WNBA all-star, wears No. 42 for the Mercury.

The Mercury lost 77-64. Point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, wearing a “We Are BG” T-shirt, said after the game the verdict was devastating.

“Nobody needed to even play right now,” she told reporters. “How are you alleged to method the sport, method the courtroom and with a transparent thoughts, and our complete group is crying earlier than the sport? Because you attempt to honor her and also you attempt to come out and nonetheless play arduous for her.”

Earlier, the Mercury released a statement calling the verdict “a sobering milestone within the 168-day nightmare” of her detention.

“We are impressed daily by BG’s energy and we’re steadfastly dedicated to maintaining her top-of-mind publicly till she is safely again on American soil. We won’t permit her to be forgotten. We are BG,” the statement reads.

Head coach Vanessa Nygaard told CNN the guilty verdict and Griner’s sentence is “unacceptable.”

“It’s simply heartbreaking,” the coach said. “To hear her phrases and her apologies. Just attempting to ship love, prayers and energy to her.”

In a joint statement, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver criticized the verdict and sentence as “unjustified and unlucky, however not surprising.”

“The WNBA and NBA’s dedication to her protected return has not wavered and it’s our hope that we’re close to the top of this means of lastly bringing BG house to the United States,” they said.

Defense asked for leniency in closing arguments

The court hearing Thursday began shortly after Griner arrived in handcuffs, escorted by Russian officers into the defendant’s cage. Once uncuffed, she spoke with her legal team and then held up a photo of the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team, the Russian squad she played for during the WNBA offseason.

In closing arguments, Blagovolina argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so. She had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intent in her actions, Blagovolina argued.

Examination of the substance in Brittney Griner's vape cartridges violated Russian law, defense expert says

Even if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was solely at house again in Arizona, uncommon and solely with a physician’s prescription, she added. She could not have recognized how strict the legal guidelines had been in Russia, Blagovolina stated.

Boykov additionally argued Griner had no alternative to correctly look at the courtroom paperwork. He stated that the Russian structure ensures everybody the appropriate to make use of their native language and the free selection of the language of communication.

Boykov cited an occasion when a language interpreter offered to Griner flipped by means of a prolonged doc provided by an investigator for translation after which instructed Griner, “Basically, it means that you’re responsible.”

Throughout the trial, Griner’s attorneys have laid out arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and claiming her detention was not handled correctly after she was stopped February 17 by personnel at the Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Her detention, search and arrest were “improper,” Boykov said last week, noting more details would be revealed during closing arguments.

Detained Americans Fast Facts
After she was stopped within the airport, Griner was made to sign documents that she did not fully understand, she testified. At first, she said, she was using Google translate on her phone but was later moved to another room where her phone was taken and she was made to sign more documents.

No lawyer was present, Griner testified, and her rights were not explained to her. Those rights would include access to an attorney once she was detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. Under Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.

On Tuesday, at the seventh hearing in her case, a defense expert testified that the examination of the substance contained in Griner’s vape cartridges did not comply with Russian law. Blagovolina also told CNN her team’s experts identified “a couple of defects” in the machines used to measure the substance.

At trial, Griner testified she has a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia. Following her detention in February, she was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers previously said.

“We proceed to insist that, by indiscretion, in a rush, she packed her suitcase and didn’t take note of the truth that substances allowed to be used within the United States ended up on this suitcase and arrived within the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center, has stated.

CNN’s Jill Martin, Elizabeth Wolfe, Allie Malloy, Travis Caldwell, Dakin Andone, Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler, Natasha Bertrand, Carolyn Manno and Frederik Pleitgen contributed to this report.

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