Brittney Griner: WNBA star sentenced to 9 years in prison in Russia for drug trafficking

Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court handed down the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said the court considered Griner’s partial guilty plea, remorse, health and charitable activities. Prosecutors asked that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in prison.

“I never intended to hurt anyone, I never intended to endanger the Russian population, I never intended to break any law here,” Griner said. “I have made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your judgment it will not end my life here. I know everyone keeps talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that’s far away from this courtroom.

“I want to say again that I had no intention of breaking any Russian law. I had no intention. I did not conspire and I did not plan to commit this crime,” she added.

After the sentencing, Griner told a CNN producer as he left court, “I love my family.”

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 into her luggage. The two-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a rush.

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

“We are very disappointed with the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone, regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the defense evidence and most importantly the guilty plea,” they said these in the statement. “This flies in the face of existing legal practice. Given the amount of merit (not to mention the flaws in the expertise) and the reason, the verdict is completely unreasonable. We will certainly appeal.”

Speaking outside court, Boykov said the average prison term for this type of crime is five years, adding that nearly a third of those convicted get parole.

Griner “is not doing well today,” said Blagovolina, a partner at the law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners. The defense team hopes Griner will be able to speak with her family next week. Blagovolina added that Griner will return to the detention center where she is being held.

The sentence comes amid strained relations between the US and Russia

The harsh sentence comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s spat with the US and Europe. The US State Department claims Griner is being wrongfully detained, and US officials have offered a potential prisoner swap with Russia in an attempt to bring her home safely.
The charge d’affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said the sentence was a “violation of justice”, and US President Joe Biden said the long sentence was “unacceptable”.
Joe Biden calls Brittney Griner's sentence 'unacceptable'

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her beloved wife. friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence “highlights our significant concerns with the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of illegal detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns “.

He said the U.S. is working to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who has been detained by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. “This is an absolute priority of mine and of the Department,” Blinken said.

It is now “on the Russian side” if Griner’s conviction opens new doors for prisoner exchange negotiations, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

“We’re still open to seriously and positively considering our proposal, and if from the Russian side that means they feel they’re more empowered to do that, then so be it,” Kirby told reporters at Thursday’s briefing at White House.

Kirby reiterated that the U.S. position remains that it wants Russia to “take the deal to the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’s going to help them bring Paul and Brittney home.”

CNN national security analyst Steve Hall said the harsh sentence was not a surprise and argued that Russia’s legal proceedings were not legitimate.

“This is the whole performance in Russia. There was never any doubt about what was going to happen,” he said. “What Vladimir Putin is trying to do is basically increase Ms. Griner’s bargaining price.”

Last week, CNN reported that the Biden administration had proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, offering to release a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Russian officials countered the U.S. offer, several sources familiar with the talks said, but U.S. officials did not accept the request as a legitimate counteroffer.

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

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, was scheduled to play the Connecticut Sun on Thursday at 7:00 PM ET. The Mercury released a statement calling the verdict “a milestone in the 168-day nightmare” of her detention.

“We are inspired every day by the power of BG and are firmly committed to keeping his audience top of mind until he is safely back on American soil. We will not allow her to be forgotten. We are BG”.

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

“It’s just heartbreaking,” the coach said. “To hear his words and apologies. I’m just trying to send him love, prayers and strength.”

In a joint statement, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver criticized the verdict and sentence as “unwarranted and unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to a safe return has not wavered, and we hope that we are nearing the end of this process to finally bring BG home to the United States,” they said.

The defense asked for leniency in closing arguments

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

In closing arguments, Blagovolina argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and never intended to do so. She did not need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intention in his actions, Blagovolina claimed.

Examining substance in Brittney Griner's vape cartridges violated Russian law, defense expert says

Even if Griner had ever used medical marijuana, it was only at home in Arizona, rarely and only with a doctor’s prescription, she added. She could not have known how strict the laws are in Russia, Blagovolina said.

Boykov also argued that Griner did not have an opportunity to properly review the court documents. He said that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their mother tongue and the free choice of the language of communication.

Boykov cited an example in which a language interpreter provided to Griner flipped through a lengthy document provided by an investigator for translation and then told Griner, “Basically, it means you’re guilty.”

Throughout the trial, Griner’s lawyers presented arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and argued that her detention was not handled properly after she was stopped on February 17 by staff at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

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

Americans Detained Fast Facts
After being stopped at the airport, Griner was made to sign documents she did not fully understand, she testified. At first, she said, she used Google Translate on her phone, but was later moved to another room where her phone was taken away and she was forced to sign several documents.

No lawyer was present, Griner testified, and her rights were not explained to her. These rights would include access to a lawyer once she has been detained and the right to know why she is suspected. 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 that his team’s experts had identified “several flaws” in the machines used to measure the substance.

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

“We continue to insist that through indiscretion, in haste, he packed his suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances permitted for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and reached the Russian Federation,” Boikov said. of the Moscow Legal Center, said.

CNN’s 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.