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Russian court upholds WNBA star Brittney Griner’s 9-year prison sentence

A Russian court on Tuesday rejected an attraction by U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner of her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession, a step that would transfer her nearer to a doable high-stakes prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington.

The eight-time all-star middle with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist was convicted Aug. 4 after police mentioned they discovered vape canisters containing hashish oil in her baggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner, 32, was not on the Moscow Regional Court listening to however appeared by way of video hyperlink from a penal colony outdoors the capital the place she is held.

At her trial, Griner admitted to having the canisters in her baggage however testified she packed them inadvertently in her haste to make her flight and had no prison intent. Her protection group offered written statements saying she had been prescribed hashish to deal with continual ache.

RUSSIA-US-BASKETBALL-COURT-APPEAL
U.S. basketball participant Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony in August for drug smuggling, is seen on a display screen by way of a video hyperlink from a remand prison throughout a court listening to to contemplate an attraction in opposition to her sentence, on the Moscow regional court on October 25, 2022. 

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP by way of Getty Images


“This has been very traumatic experience, waiting for this day, waiting for the first court, and getting nine years for a crime that I was barely over the significant amount,” Griner instructed the Moscow listening to on Tuesday. “I don’t understand the first court’s decision to give one year less than the max when I’ve been here almost 8 months, and people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given… I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence, because it’s been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and psyche, being away from my family and not being able to communicate.”

The nine-year sentence was near the utmost of 10 years, and Griner’s legal professionals argued after the conviction that the punishment was extreme. They mentioned in comparable instances defendants have obtained a median sentence of about 5 years, with a few third of them granted parole.

While upholding the sentence, the court mentioned Griner’s prison time will likely be recalculated to replicate what she has already served in pre-trial detention. One day in pre-trial detention will likely be counted as 1 1/2 days in prison, so she nonetheless must serve about eight years in prison.

Griner’s legal professionals Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov mentioned in an electronic mail that they had been “very disappointed” with the choice as a result of they nonetheless consider “the punishment is excessive and contradicts to the existing court practice.”

“Britthey’s biggest fear is that she is not exchanged and will have to serve the whole sentence in Russia,” they mentioned. “She had hopes for today, as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her.”

They mentioned they needed to focus on with Griner what authorized steps they need to take subsequent.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert known as the court’s ruling “unfortunate” however “not unexpected.”

“We greatly appreciate the ongoing efforts of the administration and U.S. Department of State in leading the negotiations,” Engelbert mentioned in a press release. “It is time to bring this case to an end and bring BG home.”

Griner’s arrest in February got here at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, simply days earlier than Russia despatched troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to play for a Russian group throughout the WNBA’s offseason.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken known as the choice “another failure of justice, compounding the injustice of her detention,” including that “securing her release is our priority.”

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” – a cost that Russia has sharply rejected.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan mentioned in a press release that U.S. President Joe Biden “is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home.”

The WNBA Players Association mentioned the ruling was “further verification that BG is not just wrongfully detained -– she is very clearly a hostage.”

Reflecting rising stress on the Biden administration to do extra to deliver Griner house, Blinken took the weird step of unveiling publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner house, together with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken did not elaborate, however The Associated Press and different information organizations have reported that Washington has provided to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms vendor who’s serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. and as soon as earned the nickname the “merchant of death.”

The White House mentioned it has not but obtained a productive response from Russia to the supply.

Russian diplomats have refused to touch upon the U.S. proposal and urged Washington to debate the matter in confidential talks, avoiding public statements. But some Russian officers have mentioned a deal is extra doubtless as soon as appeals have been exhausted.

In September, Biden met with Cherelle Griner, the participant’s spouse, Cherelle Griner, in addition to her agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden additionally sat down individually with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister.

Earlier this month, Cherelle Griner instructed “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King that she was frightened of the WNBA star’s destiny.


Brittney Griner’s spouse on WNBA star’s detention in Russia

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“It’s like a movie for me. I’m like, ‘In no world did I ever thought, you know, our president and a foreign nation president would be sitting down having to discuss the freedom of my wife.’ And so to me, as much as everybody’s telling me a different definition of what B.G. is, it feels to me as if she’s a hostage,” Cherelle mentioned.

The White House mentioned after the conferences that the president burdened to the households his “continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”

The U.S. and Russia carried out a prisoner swap in April. Moscow launched U.S. Marines veteran Trevor Reed in trade for the U.S. releasing a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted in a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Moscow additionally has pushed for the discharge of different Russians in U.S. custody.

One of them is Alexander Vinnik, who was accused of laundering billions of {dollars} by way of a bootleg cryptocurrency trade. Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 and extradited to the U.S. in August.

Vinnik’s French lawyer, Frederic Belot, instructed Russian newspaper Izvestia final month that his shopper hoped to be a part of a doable swap.

The newspaper speculated that one other doable candidate was Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker. He was sentenced in 2017 to 27 years in prison on prices from a hacking and bank card fraud scheme.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner appears in court via video link in Krasnogorsk
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner seems on a display screen by way of video hyperlink from a detention middle earlier than a court listening to to contemplate her attraction of her prison sentence on Oct. 25, 2022.

EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / REUTERS


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