Russian court docket upholds Brittney Griner’s drug smuggling conviction


A choose in Russia has left Brittney Griner’s verdict in place, upholding on Tuesday the US basketball star’s conviction on drug smuggling expenses and decreasing solely barely her nine-year jail sentence.

Griner’s sentence can be modified to rely the time she spent in pretrial detention after her February 17 arrest at a Moscow airport, the choose dominated, with every day in pretrial custody counting as 1.5 days towards her jail sentence. It was not instantly clear precisely how a lot that would cut back the sentence.

The choice got here after an enchantment listening to Tuesday at which Griner, whom the US considers wrongfully detained, once more apologized as she and her attorneys requested the court docket for a extra lenient sentence, arguing the decision was unfair and unjustified beneath Russian legislation. The attorneys urged the court docket to acquit her, calling her sentence disproportionate and the earlier court docket ruling unsuitable in saying Griner had prison intent.

“I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given,” Griner mentioned Tuesday, showing on the listening to by way of video hyperlink from her detention middle, Correctional Colony No. 1 in Novoye Grishino, north of Moscow.

“I really hope the court will adjust this sentence,” she mentioned earlier than the judgment, “because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and my psyche and being away from my family, not being able to communicate.”

Griner’s attorneys expressed disappointment after the listening to, saying in an announcement the decision “contains numerous defects” and so they really feel “the punishment is excessive.”

US officers have tried to safe the discharge of Griner and Paul Whelan, one other American imprisoned in Russia, by proposing a prisoner swap with Russia. These efforts have continued in latest weeks, Nationwide Safety Adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned Tuesday in an announcement that referred to as the newest listening to a “sham,” including, “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.”

However together with her enchantment unsuccessful, Griner, a two-time US Olympic gold medalist, is worried she must serve out the rest of her sentence in Russia, her attorneys mentioned, if the US and Russia can’t strike a deal for a prisoner swap.

“She had hopes for today,” the attorneys mentioned, “as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her.”

The US State Division has maintained Griner is wrongfully detained, and her case has prompted concern she is getting used as a political pawn amid the backdrop of Russia’s warfare in opposition to Ukraine. That has not modified, essentially the most senior American diplomat in Moscow instructed reporters Tuesday exterior the Moscow Regional Courtroom.

“Nothing in the previous sentence, nothing in the result of today’s appeal changes the fact that the United States government considers Griner to be wrongfully detained,” US Embassy Cost d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood mentioned.

Griner was initially taken into custody days earlier than the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – when authorities accused her of making an attempt to smuggle lower than a gram of hashish oil in her baggage. Griner performs in Russia throughout the WNBA’s offseason.

Comply with reside updates: Russia’s warfare in Ukraine

The All-Star middle for the Phoenix Mercury pleaded responsible to drug expenses, telling the court docket throughout her trial that vape cartridges containing the hashish oil have been in her baggage as a result of she had packed her luggage in a rush.

In court docket Tuesday, protection legal professional Maria Blagovolina solid doubt on the Russian examination of Griner’s alleged drug use, calling the outcomes of that examination “doubtful and unconfirmed.” “Continuous narcotic substance use is incompatible with a career as a professional athlete,” added Blagovolina, a associate at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Companions legislation agency.

“No lawyer will be able to say in all honesty that this verdict is in line with Russian judicial practice,” Griner’s different legal professional, Alexander Boykov of the Moscow Authorized Heart, mentioned.

Each attorneys beforehand indicated they felt Griner’s nine-year sentence was excessive, with Blagovolina calling it “very severe for this type of crime and this amount of this substance.”

Forward of the listening to, Blagovolina and Boykov referred to as Griner a “strong person” with a “champion’s character” who was however “severely stressed being separated from her loved ones for over eight months.”

The court docket listening to the enchantment may have left Griner’s verdict in place, overruled it and despatched it again to the decrease court docket, or lowered her jail time period, her attorneys mentioned.

“She is very nervous waiting for the appeal hearing,” they added in a written assertion to CNN. “Brittney does not expect any miracles to happen but hopes that the appeal court will hear the arguments of the defense and reduce the term.”

Whereas Griner’s case performs out, US officers have individually proposed a possible prisoner swap with Russia, providing to alternate convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan, an American citizen who’s been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. Whelan, who has persistently denied the fees, was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in jail.

Regardless of the “pretty persistent” tempo of discussions between the US and Russia to safe the People’ launch, a senior administration official instructed CNN final week the Biden administration has but to obtain a critical counteroffer from the Russian aspect.

“They’re not nonresponsive. I would say that they continue to respond with something that they know not to be feasible or available,” the official mentioned of the Russian response.

Former Gov. Invoice Richardson of New Mexico – whose namesake middle works on behalf of households of hostages and detainees, and who lately traveled to Russia to debate the doable launch of Griner and Whelan – lately mentioned he was “cautiously optimistic” the 2 People could possibly be launched.

Richardson, who additionally served as US ambassador to the United Nations beneath President Invoice Clinton, mentioned he’s working with each their households and coordinating with the White Home to work towards their releases. The previous governor performed a job within the launch of Trevor Reed, an American veteran detained in Russia for 3 years earlier than his launch in April.

In the meantime, Griner’s spouse Cherelle and their supporters have continued to spotlight her case and keep help and strain to make sure she’s introduced house, beginning a #WeAreBG marketing campaign on social media.

The WNBA on Tuesday reiterated its want to see Griner introduced house, saying in an announcement the result of her enchantment “is further verification that BG is not just wrongfully detained – she is very clearly a hostage.”

“We must unite and support the stated public commitment of the Biden Administration and Congressional leaders to do everything possible to get her home,” the assertion mentioned, including, “No athlete should be used as a political pawn.”

After months of pushing, Cherelle Griner met final month with Biden, telling CNN the assembly illustrated the administration’s dedication to bringing her spouse house.

“It wasn’t a meeting where the President told me the news that I want to hear,” Cherelle Griner mentioned. “It wasn’t that, but it was one of those still pivotal meetings where … it allowed me to have confidence in what he’s doing right now.”

As for Griner, she turned 32 final week, celebrating her birthday in a cell within the suburbs of Moscow, her attorneys instructed CNN. They spent a number of hours together with her in an effort to “cheer her up” as a lot as they might, relaying birthday messages from around the globe.

“Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home,” Griner mentioned in a message shared by her attorneys. “All the support and love are definitely helping me.”