MOSCOW — U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday in Russia of drug possession and smuggling and was sentenced to 9 years behind bars in a politically charged case that might result in a high-stakes prisoner trade 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 by Choose Anna Sotnikova, however her attorneys mentioned later she was “very upset.” Griner additionally was fined 1 million rubles (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 launch her instantly so she will be along with her spouse, family members, pals, and teammates,” Biden mentioned, including that he would proceed to work to deliver residence Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.
Outdoors courtroom, the U.S. Embassy’s cost d’affaires Elizabeth Rood known as the end result “a miscarriage of justice.”
Griner, acknowledged as one of many biggest gamers in WNBA historical past, has been detained since Feb. 17 after police mentioned they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her baggage upon touchdown at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She was returning to Russia, the place she has competed since 2014.
As she was led out of courtroom, Griner mentioned: “I really like my household.”
The nine-year sentence was near the utmost of 10 years that Griner had confronted underneath the fees. Most Russians possessing small portions of medication get at most 5 years in jail, attorneys mentioned.
Protection legal professional Maria Blagovolina informed reporters later that Griner was “very upset, very harassed. She will hardly discuss. It is a troublesome time for her.”
Earlier than the unusually swift verdict was reached, an emotional Griner apologized to her household, teammates and the Russian metropolis of Yekaterinburg, the place she performs within the WNBA offseason, “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I introduced on them.”
Together with her voice cracking, she added: “I hope in your ruling it doesn’t finish my life.”
Beneath Russian regulation, Griner has 10 days to attraction, and her attorneys say they count on a listening to in Moscow regional courtroom subsequent week. Requested if Griner might ask for pardon from President Vladimir Putin, Blagovolina mentioned they’d contemplate each risk, however the attorneys mentioned they weren’t a part of any discussions a couple of prisoner swap.
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas tweeted that the sentence “was extreme by Russian authorized requirements and goes to show what now we have recognized all alongside, that Brittney is getting used as a political pawn.” She added that she supported Biden’s efforts “to get a deal performed.”
US gives Russia deal geared toward bringing residence WNBA star Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan
A conviction is often a prerequisite to arranging a prisoner trade and likewise permits Griner to use for a presidential pardon. Deputy Overseas Minister Sergei Ryabkov mentioned final month that the “vital judicial procedures” should be accomplished earlier than different steps will be taken.
The disclosure in July that the U.S. authorities was looking for a prisoner swap involving Griner mirrored the rising strain on the Biden administration to do extra to deliver her residence. The U.S. State Division had earlier declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” – a cost that Russia has sharply rejected.
When she took the stand July 7, Griner mentioned: “I want to plead responsible on the fees towards me. However I had no intention of breaking any Russian regulation.” 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 whereas being held on the airport, saying an interpreter supplied by authorities translated solely a fraction of what was being mentioned to her and that officers informed her to signal paperwork with out explaining what they had been. She additionally mentioned she was not knowledgeable of her rights.
MORE: WNBA All-Star and Houston native Brittney Griner lands Time Journal cowl
Her attorneys launched proof that Griner was utilizing the medicinal hashish for power ache and accidents sustained throughout her profession and included a letter from her physician. Griner testified she was conscious hashish oil was outlawed in Russia and had not meant to interrupt the regulation or “plan to smuggle something into Russia.”
Griner’s case and her almost six months behind bars have raised sturdy criticism amongst her supporters in america, together with her spouse, Cherelle, that Biden was not doing sufficient to win her freedom.
Griner despatched a private attraction to Biden, and greater than 1,100 Black feminine leaders urged the administration to “make a deal to get Brittney again residence swiftly and safely and to fulfill with Brittney’s spouse Cherelle instantly.” Biden later known as Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that he’s working to safe Brittney’s launch as quickly as doable,” the White Home mentioned July 6.
Cherelle Griner, who additionally spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later mentioned she was “grateful to the each of them for the time they spent with me and for the dedication they expressed to getting BG residence,” utilizing her spouse’s initials.
On July 27, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned Washington has provided a deal to Russia geared toward bringing residence Griner and Whelan in a pointy reversal of earlier coverage. Particulars of the proposal weren’t introduced, although an individual conversant in the matter mentioned the U.S. has provided to commerce convicted Russian arms seller Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The individual insisted on anonymity to debate an ongoing investigation.
Russian media have speculated repeatedly that Griner might be swapped for Bout, nicknamed “the Service provider of Loss of life,” who’s serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. residents and offering help to a terrorist group. Russia has agitated for Bout’s launch for years.
The severity of Griner’s sentence might give Russia leverage in a swap by rising strain on Washington to barter her launch.
“I believe that the harsher the sentence, the extra strain there will probably be on the Biden administration to make a deal, and clearly they like leveraging that strain,” Tom Firestone, a lawyer who previously served because the resident authorized adviser on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, mentioned of the Russians earlier than the sentence was imposed.
Her detention was made public solely after Russian troops moved into Ukraine, as relations between Russia and america hit new lows after Washington led the West in bringing sanctions towards Moscow.
Griner’s plight has been highlighted by her supporters at residence, together with high athletes, particularly after little information emerged from her preliminary weeks of detention in Russia, the place she had restricted entry to officers from the U.S. Embassy. It was solely in Might that the State Division designated her as wrongfully detained, shifting her case underneath the supervision of its Particular Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, successfully the federal government’s chief hostage negotiator.
On the ESPY Awards final month, soccer participant Megan Rapinoe referred to Griner as “a political prisoner,” and tennis nice Billie Jean King mentioned, “First, deliver BG residence. Gotta do this.”
NBA Finals MVP Stephan Curry wore Griner’s jersey underneath his monitor swimsuit on the awards present and urged “the whole international sports activities group to proceed to remain energized on her behalf. She’s considered one of us, the workforce of athletes on this room tonight and everywhere in the world. A workforce that has nothing to do with politics or international battle.”
Griner, a 6-foot-9 heart, has 12 of the 15 common season dunks in WNBA historical past and set the single-year report for blocks with 129 in 2014. She led the league in scoring twice. She was a two-time Related Press faculty basketball participant of the 12 months and led Baylor to a 40-0 season and the 2012 NCAA title. She was the No. 1 choose by Phoenix within the 2013 draft.
The commissioners of the WNBA and NBA known as the trial’s end result “unjustified and unlucky, however not surprising and Brittney Griner stays wrongly detained. … It’s our hope that we’re close to the top of this means of lastly bringing BG residence to america.”
Related Press author Eric Tucker in Washington contributed.
Copyright © 2022 by The Related Press. All Rights Reserved.