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

Choose Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki metropolis court docket delivered the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She mentioned the court docket took into consideration Griner’s partial request for forgiveness, regret for the deed, state of well being and charitable actions. Prosecutors had requested that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner mentioned. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.

“I wish to say once more that I had no intent on breaking any Russian legal guidelines. I had no intent. I didn’t conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she added.

After the sentence, Griner told a CNN producer as she left court, “I like my household.”

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

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

“We’re very disenchanted by the decision. As authorized professionals, we imagine that the court docket ought to be honest to everybody no matter nationality. The court docket fully ignored all of the proof of the protection, and most significantly, the responsible plea,” they said in the statement. “This contradicts the present authorized observe. Making an allowance for the quantity of the substance (to not point out the defects of the experience) and the plea, the decision is totally unreasonable. We will definitely file an attraction.”

Speaking outside court, Boykov said that the average time in jail for this type of crime is five years, adding that almost a third of those convicted get parole.

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

Sentence comes amid tense US-Russia relations

The harsh sentence comes amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s saber-rattling with the US and Europe. The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and US officials have offered a potential prisoner swap with Russia in an attempt to bring her home safely.
Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said the sentence was a “miscarriage of justice,” and US President Joe Biden said the lengthy sentence was “unacceptable.”

“At present, American citizen Brittney Griner acquired a jail sentence that’s yet one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It is unacceptable, and I name on Russia to launch her instantly so she might be together with her spouse, family members, buddies, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence “places a highlight on our vital considerations with Russia’s authorized system and the Russian authorities’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its personal agenda, utilizing people as political pawns.”

He said the US is working to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. “That is an absolute precedence of mine and the Division’s,” he said.

CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall said the harsh sentence was not a surprise and argued that Russia’s court proceedings are not legitimate.

“That is all efficiency in Russia. There was by no means any doubt as to what was going to occur,” he said. “What Vladimir Putin is making an attempt to do is principally drive up the bargaining worth of Ms. Griner.”

Last week, CNN reported that the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, offering to release a convicted Russian arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Russian officials countered 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 exchange involving Griner. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believes these talks should be “discrete.”

Griner’s family, supporters and WNBA teammates have continued to express messages of solidarity and hope as they wait for the conclusion of the trial. Her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, is expected to play the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET.

In a joint statement, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver criticized the verdict and sentence as “unjustified and unlucky, however not sudden.”

“The WNBA and NBA’s dedication to her secure return has not wavered and it’s our hope that we’re close to the tip of this strategy of lastly bringing BG dwelling to the USA,” they said.

Defense asked for leniency in closing arguments

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

In closing arguments, Blagovolina argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so. She had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intent in her actions, Blagovolina argued.

Even if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was only at home back in Arizona, rare and only with a doctor’s prescription, she added. She couldn’t have known how strict the laws were in Russia, Blagovolina said.

Boykov also argued Griner had no opportunity 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 an instance when a language interpreter provided to Griner flipped through a lengthy document offered by an investigator for translation and then told Griner, “Principally, it means that you’re responsible.”

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

Throughout the trial, Griner’s attorneys have laid out arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and claiming her detention was not handled correctly after she was stopped February 17 by personnel at the Sheremetyevo International Airport.

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

After she was stopped in the airport, Griner was made to sign documents that she did not fully understand, she testified. At first, she said, she was using Google translate on her phone but was later moved to another room where her phone was taken and she was made to sign more documents.

No lawyer was present, Griner testified, and her rights were not explained to her. Those rights would include access to an attorney once she was detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. 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 her team’s experts identified “a number of defects” in the machines used to measure the substance.

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

“We proceed to insist that, by indiscretion, in a rush, she packed her suitcase and didn’t take note of the truth that substances allowed to be used in the USA ended up on this suitcase and arrived within the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of Moscow Authorized Middle, has mentioned.

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