Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian jail

A Russian court docket sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9 years in jail Thursday, an anticipated conclusion to her trial that ought to permit negotiations for a prisoner swap to speed up.

Griner, who was arrested Feb. 17 for bringing hashish into the nation, had been ready for a harsh sentence, sources near the participant stated. However she and her supporters have additionally been conscious that Russia was not going to maneuver ahead with a commerce that might carry her residence till her trial was accomplished. A responsible verdict was thought-about a foregone conclusion, and Griner pleaded responsible July 7, although the case continued beneath Russian legislation.

Throughout sentencing, Decide Anna Sotnikova stated she had discovered that Griner deliberately broke the legislation and likewise fined her 1 million rubles (about $16,700). Sotnikova stated the time Griner has served in custody since her arrest in February would depend towards the sentence.

Griner reacted to the sentence with little emotion, listening to the decision with a clean stare on her face.

As she was led out of court docket, Griner stated: “I love my family.”

The nine-year sentence was near the utmost of 10 years that Griner had confronted beneath the fees, and prosecutors had requested for a 9½-year sentence.

Griner’s protection legal professionals stated they might enchantment. The protection crew stated that in sentencing the court docket had ignored all proof it had introduced and Griner’s responsible plea.

Protection legal professional Maria Blagovolina instructed reporters later that Griner was “very upset, very stressed. She can hardly talk. It’s a difficult time for her.”

Underneath Russian legislation, Griner has 10 days to enchantment, and her legal professionals stated they count on a listening to in Moscow regional court docket subsequent week. Requested if Griner may ask for pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Blagovolina stated they might think about each risk, however the legal professionals stated they weren’t a part of any discussions a couple of prisoner swap.

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a press release on the decision that referred to Griner as wrongfully detained — a designation U.S. officers have used since Might — and referred to as for her launch.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden stated. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

Outdoors the court docket, the U.S. Embassy’s chargé d’affaires Elizabeth Rood referred to as the decision “a miscarriage of justice.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, in a joint assertion, referred to as Thursday’s verdict and sentencing “unjustified and unfortunate,” whereas Griner’s WNBA crew, additionally tweeted a press release of help and the WNBA gamers’ affiliation stated “It’s just time” for Griner to be returned to the US.

“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States,” Engelbert and Silver stated.

Mentioned the WNBPA in its assertion: “Today’s verdict and sentence, while inevitable, is disappointing. The unjust decision today is what it is, unjust. It is a terrible blow . Whatever conversations Secretary [Antony] Blinken and his Russian counterpart need to have, we trust that they are having them with all deliberate speed. Because it’s time. It’s just time.”

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas tweeted that the sentence “was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn.” She added that she supported the Biden administration’s efforts “to get a deal done.”

U.S. officers stated final week that they’ve supplied a deal for Griner’s return, and sources have stated the deal would commerce convicted Russian arms vendor Viktor Bout for Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian custody since being arrested on espionage fees in December 2018.

Griner’s technique all through the trial was to deal with it as a reliable continuing, realizing {that a} responsible verdict was thought-about a foregone conclusion and that any deal to ship her residence would require an act of contrition.

Addressing the court docket on the finish of her trial and earlier than sentencing Thursday, Griner once more instructed the court docket she made “an honest mistake” and talked concerning the sense of accountability she realized from her mother and father rising up in Houston.

“That’s why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that’s being said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty,” Griner stated, addressing the choose via an interpreter from her defendant’s cage. “But I had no intent to break any Russian laws.”

Griner additionally apologized to her teammates, followers and the town of Ekaterinburg, the place she has performed throughout WNBA offseasons since 2014.

“I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here,” she stated. “I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”

Griner additionally addressed the political actuality of her detention: “I know that everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom.”

Griner’s attorneys had hoped for leniency, however Griner and her supporters know that ultimately, the size of the sentence is merely a formality in negotiations for her launch.

Russian officers, together with the Kremlin’s prime spokesperson and the deputy minister for overseas affairs, have insisted that, beneath Russian legislation, the nation couldn’t think about a deal earlier than she was sentenced.

In contrast with different People who’ve been detained in Russia, Griner’s authorized case moved quickly.

Whelan, for instance, was held in pretrial detention for 18 months earlier than his trial concluded in June 2020. American Trevor Reed was arrested in August 2019 and convicted in July 2020. He got here residence this April after the international locations agreed to a prisoner swap that American officers sought when Reed was reported to be unwell.

Reed’s launch was the primary welcome signal to Griner’s supporters that there was a diplomatic channel open between the 2 international locations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this yr.

The Related Press contributed to this report.