Brittney Griner: WNBA star sentenced to 9 years in jail for drug-smuggling | A Russian court sentences WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9 years on drug charges
Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court delivered the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said the court considered Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health, and charitable activities. Prosecutors had asked that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.
American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time Thursday in a case that has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
MOSCOW: A Russian court has found Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling and possession charges. The widely expected verdict comes after a month-long trial and nearly six months after the basketball star was arrested at a Moscow-area airport with cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage.
The judge sentenced Griner to nine years in prison. Her charges lasted 10 years, and the Russian prosecution requested a sentence of nine years and six months in a penal colony.
The trial’s outcome was not unusual given that Russian criminal courts have a reported conviction rate of 99%. But Griner’s fate will now be decided in the political arena.
Before the verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech.
“Russia, and any country engaging in wrongful detention, represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad,” Blinken continued. “The United States opposes this practice everywhere. ”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, wrote on Twitter that she appreciated the efforts the United States was making to secure the player’s release.
“Today’s sentencing of Brittney Griner was severed by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn,” Colas wrote.
Griner admitted to making ‘an honest mistake’
Earlier on Thursday, as the two sides delivered closing remarks, Griner’s defense attorney called for her to be acquitted, or for the court to show leniency in any punishment she’s given. The 31-year-old also spoke on her behalf.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said.
The Olympian and NBA champion say she must have put the cannabis in her bag by mistake. Her defense team notes that Griner has a medical marijuana card in Arizona to help her cope with injuries sustained over years of competition. But personal cannabis possession is illegal under any circumstances in Russia, similar to U.S. federal law.
In their closing arguments, Griner’s defense attorneys cited Griner’s contributions to the growth of Russian women’s basketball and detailed irregularities in her arrest and detention — including a lack of access to qualified translators — in arguing for Griner’s acquittal or at least a lenient sentence.
Her lawyers also noted that the basketball star was prescribed medical marijuana by a U.S. doctor to treat chronic pain in the offseason — and still had never failed a drug test.
The sentence comes amid tense US-Russia relations
“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. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence “puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its agenda, using individuals 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. “This is an absolute priority of mine and the Department’s,” Blinken said.
It’s now “up to the Russian side” on whether Griner’s conviction opens new doors for negotiations of a prisoner swap, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
“We’re still open to having our proposal seriously and positively considered, and if on the Russian side that means they feel like they’re more empowered to do that, then so be it,” Kirby told reporters in Thursday’s White House briefing.
Kirby reiterated the US position remains that it wants Russia to “take the deal on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’ll 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 court proceedings are not legitimate.
“This is all performance in Russia. There was never any doubt as to what was going to happen,” he said. “What Vladimir Putin is trying to do is drive up the bargaining price of Ms. Griner.”
Here’s a quick recap of Griner’s ordeal:
- Feb. 17: Griner is detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow
- May 3: The U.S. State Department declares Griner wrongfully detained
- May 28: U.S. Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan calls Griner a “bargaining chip” amid talk of a possible prisoner exchange
- July 1: Prosecutors unseal their case in court as the trial begins
- July 7: Griner pleads guilty to drug charges as talk of a prisoner swap grows
- July 27: Griner testifies, saying she inadvertently brought the cannabis to Russia
- July 27: The U.S. says it offered Russia a deal to free Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan
- Aug. 4: Closing arguments begin
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