Russian judge sentences WNBA’s Griner to 9 years in prison

U.S. basketball famous person Brittney Griner stands in a cage previous to a court docket listening to close to Moscow, Russia, Thursday. A Russian court docket on Thursday discovered her to blame of intentionally bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia (Evgenia Novozhenina, Pool by the use of AP)

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KHIMKI, Russia — U.S. basketball famous person Brittney Griner used to be convicted Thursday in Russia of drug ownership and smuggling and used to be sentenced to 9 years in jail in a politically charged case that might result in a high-stakes prisoner change between Washington and Moscow.

The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and a eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened with a clean expression as an interpreter translated the decision via Judge Anna Sotnikova, however her attorneys stated later she used to be “very disappointed.” Griner additionally used to be fined 1 million rubles, or about $16,700.

U.S. President Joe Biden denounced as “unacceptable” the decision and sentence, which got here amid hovering tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.

“I name on Russia to free up her instantly so she may also be along with her spouse, family members, buddies, and teammates,” Biden stated, including that he would proceed to paintings to deliver house Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.

Outside court docket, the U.S. Embassy’s price d’affaires Elizabeth Rood known as the result “a miscarriage of justice.”

Griner, known as one of the vital biggest gamers in WNBA historical past, has been detained since Feb. 17 after police stated they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her baggage upon touchdown at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She used to be returning to Russia, the place she has competed since 2014.

As she used to be led out of court docket, Griner stated: “I really like my circle of relatives.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, right, enters a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday.
WNBA famous person and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, proper, enters a cage in a court previous to a listening to in Khimki simply out of doors Moscow, Russia, Thursday. (Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina, Pool by the use of AP)

The nine-year sentence used to be with reference to the utmost of 10 years that Griner had confronted below the fees. Most Russians possessing small amounts of substances get at maximum 5 years in jail, attorneys stated.

Defense legal professional Maria Blagovolina advised newshounds later that Griner used to be “very disappointed, very wired. She can infrequently communicate. It’s a troublesome time for her.”

Before the surprisingly swift verdict used to be reached, an emotional Griner apologized to her circle of relatives, teammates and the Russian town of Yekaterinburg, the place she performs within the WNBA offseason, “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I introduced on them.”

With her voice cracking, she added: “I’m hoping on your ruling it does no longer finish my existence.”

Under Russian legislation, Griner has 10 days to attraction, and her attorneys say they be expecting a listening to in Moscow regional court docket subsequent week. Asked if Griner may just ask for pardon from President Vladimir Putin, Blagovolina stated they might imagine each chance, however the attorneys stated they weren’t a part of any discussions a couple of prisoner change.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas tweeted that the sentence “used to be critical via Russian felony requirements and is going to end up what we now have identified all alongside, that Brittney is getting used as a political pawn.” She added that she supported Biden’s efforts “to get a deal carried out.”

A conviction is typically a prerequisite to arranging a prisoner change and likewise permits Griner to use for a presidential pardon. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated ultimate month that the “essential judicial procedures” should be finished ahead of different steps may also be taken.

The disclosure in July that the U.S. executive used to be looking for a prisoner change involving Griner mirrored the rising power at the Biden management to do extra to deliver her house. The U.S. State Department had previous declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a price that Russia has sharply rejected.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, center, is escorted in a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday. Griner was given a 9-year sentence weeks after her guilty plea.
WNBA famous person and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, middle, is escorted in a court docket room previous to a listening to, in Khimki simply out of doors Moscow, Russia, Thursday. Griner used to be given a 9-year sentence weeks after her to blame plea. (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko, Associated Press)

When she took the stand July 7, Griner stated: “I wish to plead to blame at the fees in opposition to me. But I had no purpose of breaking any Russian legislation.” She added that she introduced the vape canisters into Russia as a result of she had packed in haste for her flight.

Griner additionally described a complicated scene whilst being held on the airport, announcing an interpreter equipped via government translated just a fraction of what used to be being stated to her and that officers advised her to signal paperwork with out explaining what they had been. She additionally stated she used to be no longer knowledgeable of her rights.

Her attorneys offered proof that Griner used to be the use of the medicinal hashish for continual ache and accidents sustained all over her occupation and integrated a letter from her physician. Griner testified she used to be conscious hashish oil used to be outlawed in Russia and had no longer meant to wreck the legislation or “plan to smuggle the rest into Russia.”

Griner’s case and her just about six months in the back of bars have raised robust complaint amongst her supporters within the United States, together with her spouse, Cherelle, that Biden used to be no longer doing sufficient to win her freedom.

Griner despatched a private attraction to Biden, and greater than 1,100 Black feminine leaders instructed the management to “make a deal to get Brittney again house rapidly and safely and to satisfy with Brittney’s spouse Cherelle instantly.” Biden later known as Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that he’s running to protected Brittney’s free up once conceivable,” the White House stated July 6.

Cherelle Griner, who additionally spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later stated she used to be “thankful to the either one of them for the time they spent with me and for the dedication they expressed to getting BG house,” the use of her spouse’s initials.

On July 27, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated Washington has introduced a deal to Russia geared toward bringing house Griner and Whelan in a pointy reversal of earlier coverage. Details of the proposal weren’t introduced, even though an individual aware of the subject stated the U.S. has introduced to business convicted Russian palms broker Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The particular person insisted on anonymity to talk about an ongoing investigation.

Russian media have speculated time and again that Griner might be swapped for Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who’s serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. electorate and offering help to a 15 may organization. Russia has agitated for Bout’s free up for years.

The severity of Griner’s sentence may just give Russia leverage in a change via expanding power at the Biden management to barter her free up.

Her detention used to be made public simplest after Russian troops moved into Ukraine, as family members between Russia and the United States hit new lows after Washington led the West in bringing sanctions in opposition to Moscow.

Griner’s plight has been highlighted via her supporters at house, together with most sensible athletes, particularly after little information emerged from her preliminary weeks of detention in Russia, the place she had restricted get entry to to officers from the U.S. Embassy. It used to be simplest in May that the State Department designated her as wrongfully detained, transferring her case below the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, successfully the federal government’s leader hostage negotiator.

At the ESPY Awards ultimate month, football participant Megan Rapinoe referred to Griner as “a political prisoner,” and tennis nice Billie Jean King stated, “First, deliver BG house. Gotta do this.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephan Curry wore Griner’s jersey below his monitor go well with on the awards display and instructed “all the international sports activities neighborhood to proceed to stick energized on her behalf. She’s one among us, the staff of athletes on this room this night and all over the place the sector. A staff that has not anything to do with politics or international war.”

Griner, a 6-foot-9 middle, has 12 of the 15 common season dunks in WNBA historical past and set the single-year document for blocks with 129 in 2014. She led the league in scoring two times. She used to be a two-time Associated Press faculty basketball participant of the yr and led Baylor to a 40-0 season and the 2012 NCAA identify. She used to be the No. 1 pick out via Phoenix within the 2013 draft.

The commissioners of the WNBA and NBA known as the trial’s end result “unjustified and unlucky, however no longer surprising and Brittney Griner stays wrongly detained. … It is our hope that we’re close to the tip of this strategy of in any case bringing BG house to the United States.”

Contributing: Eric Tucker


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