Brittney Griner case: the prosecutor asks for a sentence of 9 and a half years

KHIMKI, Russia – US basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday in Russia for drug possession and sentenced to nine years in prison following a politically accused trial amid mounting tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and which could lead to a high-risk prisoner exchange between the two world powers.

31-year-old Griner, two-time US Olympic champion and eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury listened with a blank expression as an interpreter translated Judge Anna Sotnikova’s verdict. The judge also found her fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $ 16,700).

US President Joe Biden denounced the verdict and sentence as “unacceptable”.

“I ask Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden said, adding that he would continue to work to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an imprisoned American. in Russia there is a conviction for espionage.

Outside the courtroom, US Embassy Chargé Elizabeth Rood called the verdict “a mistrial.”

Before the unusually quick verdict was reached, an emotional Griner apologized to her family, teammates and the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA off-season, “for my mistake I made and l embarrassment that I brought them “.

In his cracked voice, he added: “I hope your sentence doesn’t end my life.”

A conviction is usually a prerequisite for organizing a prisoner exchange and also allows Griner to apply for presidential pardon. Last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the “necessary judicial procedures” must be completed before any further action can be taken.

The disclosure in July that the US government was seeking a prisoner swap involving Griner reflected the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring her home. The US State Department had previously stated that Griner was “wrongfully detained”, an accusation that Russia has firmly rejected.

Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, has been detained since February 17 after police said they found vaporizer cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. She was returning to Russia, where she has been competing since 2014.

When he took his stand at the trial on July 7, Griner said: “I would like to plead guilty to the charges against me. But I was not going to break any Russian laws. ”He added that he brought the cans of vaporization to Russia because he had quickly packed his bags for his flight.

In later testimony, Griner described a confusing scene while being held at the airport, saying that an interpreter provided by the authorities translated only part of what she was told and that officials told her to sign documents, but “no one has explained none of this to me. ” She also claimed that she was not informed of her rights.

His lawyers presented evidence that Griner was using medicinal cannabis for chronic pain and injuries sustained during his career and included a letter from his doctor. Griner testified that she was aware that cannabis oil was outlawed in Russia and she had no intention of breaking the law or “planning to smuggle anything into Russia”.

Trials in Russia are proceeding even after he is admitted guilty and it has been speculated that his actions were an attempt to pursue the legal process in the hope of a possible exchange of prisoners.

Griner’s slow case and his nearly six months behind bars have raised strong criticism among his supporters in the United States, including his wife, Cherelle, that President Joe Biden was not doing enough to win his freedom.

Griner sent a personal appeal to Biden and more than 1,100 black leaders urged the administration to “make a deal to get Brittney home quickly and safely and to meet Brittney Cherelle’s wife immediately.” Biden later called Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that she is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said on July 6.

Cherelle Griner, who also spoke to Vice President Kamala Harris, later said she was “grateful to both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they made to bring BG back home,” using her wife’s initials. .

On July 27, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington offered a deal to Russia aimed at bringing Griner and Whelan home in a stark reversal of previous policy. Details of the proposal have not been announced, although a person familiar with the matter said the US has offered to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

His detention was only made public after Russian troops moved to Ukraine, as relations between Russia and the United States reached new lows after Washington led the West in bringing sanctions against Moscow.

Griner’s plight was highlighted by his backers at home, including top athletes, especially after little news emerged from his first weeks of detention in Russia, where he had limited access to U.S. embassy officials. It wasn’t until May that the State Department designated her as unfairly detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential hostage affairs envoy, effectively the government’s main hostage negotiator.

Elizabeth Rood, the charge d’affaires of the American embassy, ​​witnessed the trial in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the airport is located, and said that American officials are closely monitoring her case, along with those of all US citizens detained or in prison in Russia.

At the ESPY Awards last month, footballer Megan Rapinoe called Griner “a political prisoner” and tennis great Billie Jean King said, “First, take BG home. I have to do it.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephan Curry wore Griner’s jersey under his tracksuit during the awards ceremony and urged “the entire global sports community to continue to remain energetic on its behalf. She is one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and around the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict ”.

Griner, a 6-foot-9 center, has 12 of 15 regular season dunks in WNBA history and set the one-year blocking record with 129 in 2014. He led the league by scoring twice. She was a two-time Associated Press basketball player of the year and led Baylor to a 40-0 season and 2012 NCAA title. She was No. 1 pick of Phoenix in the 2013 draft.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be mistaken for Bout, nicknamed “the death merchant,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US after being convicted of conspiracy to kill US citizens and provide aid to an organization. terrorist. Russia has been agitating for Bout’s release for years.

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