Brittney Griner: WNBA star sentenced to 9 years in Russian jail for drug trafficking

Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court passed sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said the court took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse, health status and charitable activities. Prosecutors had asked that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in prison.

“I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian population, I never wanted to break any laws here,” Griner said. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that his failure does not end my life here. I know everyone is still talking about politics and political pawn, but I hope that is far from this courtroom.

“I want to say again that I did not intend to violate any Russian law. I had no intention. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime,” he added.

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

Russia's war in Ukraine: live updates
The verdict comes about six months after the 31-year-old was arrested at a Moscow airport and charged by Russian prosecutors with trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in your luggage. Two-time US basketball Olympic gold medalist. pleaded guilty to drug charges last month and said he accidentally packed the drugs while he was in a hurry.

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

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone, regardless of their nationality. The court completely ignored all the defense evidence and, more importantly, the statement of guilt,” they said in the statement. “This contradicts existing legal practice. Considering the amount of substance (not to mention the flaws in the experience) and the guilty plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal.”

Speaking outside court, Boykov said the average jail time for these types of crimes 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 is hopeful that Griner will be able to talk to his family next week. Blagovolina added that Griner will return to the detention center where she is being held.

The ruling comes amid tense relations between the United States and Russia

The harsh sentence comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s saber rattling with the United States and Europe. The US State Department maintains that Griner was wrongfully detained and US officials have offered a possible prisoner swap with Russia in an attempt to get her home safely.
The Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said that the sentence was a “judicial error”, and the president of the United States Joe Biden said the long sentence it 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. It is unacceptable, and I ask Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, her beloved. friends and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the ruling “highlights our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of unjust detentions to further its own agenda, using people as political pawns.

He said the United States is working to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, a US citizen who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. “This is a top priority for me and the Department,” Blinken said.

Now “it is up to the Russian side” whether Griner’s conviction opens new doors for negotiations on a prisoner exchange, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

“We are still open to our proposal being seriously and positively considered, and if on the Russian side that means they feel they have more power to do so, so be it,” Kirby told reporters at the White House briefing. from Thursday.

Kirby reiterated that the US position remains that it wants Russia to “take the deal on the table because it’s good, it’s fair and it will help bring Paul and Brittney home.”

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

“This is all acting 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 the bargaining price of Ms. Griner.”

Last week, CNN reported that the Biden administration proposed a prisoner exchange with Russiaoffering to release a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner and whelan. russian officials responded to 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 swap involving Griner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believes these talks should be “low-key”.

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, plays the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night at 7 pm ET. The Mercury released a statement calling the verdict “a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare” of her arrest.

“We are inspired every day by the strength of BG and are firmly committed to keeping it in the public’s mind until it returns safely to American soil. We will not let it be forgotten. We are BG.”

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

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

Defense asked for clemency in closing arguments

The court hearing began Thursday shortly after Griner arrived in handcuffs, escorted by Russian officers to the defendant’s cage. Once he was out of the handcuffs, she spoke to his legal team and then showed a photo of 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. He had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intention in his actions, argued Blagovolina.

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

Even if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was only at his home in Arizona, rarely and only by prescription, he added. He couldn’t have known how strict the laws were in Russia, Blagovolina said.

Boykov also argued that Griner did not have a chance to properly examine the court documents. He said that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their native language and the free choice of the language of communication.

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

Throughout the trial, Griner’s lawyers have made arguments that undermine the prosecution’s case and claim that her detention was mishandled after she was detained by staff on February 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

His stop, search and arrest were “inappropriate,” Boykov said last week, noting that more details would be revealed during closing arguments.

Basic facts about detained Americans
After being stopped at the airport, Griner it was made to sign documents that he did not fully understand, he testified. At first, she said, she was using Google Translate on her phone, but then she was moved to another room where they took her phone away from her and forced her to sign more documents.

Griner testified that no attorney was present and his rights were not explained to him. Those rights would include access to a lawyer once she was detained and the right to know what was 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 his case, a defense expert testified that examination of the substance contained in Griner’s vape cartridges did not comply with Russian law. Blagovolina also told CNN that experts on her team identified “some flaws” in the machines used to measure the substance.

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

“We continue to insist that, due to indiscretion, in a hurry, he packed his suitcase and did not realize that the substances permitted for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and reached the Russian Federation,” Boykov said. of the Moscow Legal Center, he said.

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

Leave a Comment