WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison

KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday in Russia of drug possession and sentenced to 9 years in jail following a politically charged trial that got here amid hovering tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and will result in a high-stakes prisoner change between the 2 world powers.

The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and a eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury listened with a clean expression as an interpreter translated the decision by Decide Anna Sotnikova. The decide additionally fined her 1 million rubles (about $16,700) advantageous.

U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the decision and sentence as “unacceptable.”

“I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden mentioned, including that he would proceed to work to carry dwelling Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.

Exterior the court docket, the U.S. Embassy’s cost d’affaires Elizabeth Rood referred to as the decision “a miscarriage of justice.”

Earlier than the unusually swift verdict was reached, an emotional Griner apologized to her household, teammates and the Russian metropolis of Yekaterinburg, the place she performs within the WNBA offseason, “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.”

Together with her voice cracking, she added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

A conviction is normally a prerequisite to arranging a prisoner change and in addition permits Griner to use for a presidential pardon. Deputy International Minister Sergei Ryabkov mentioned final month that the “necessary judicial procedures” have to be accomplished earlier than some other steps could be taken.

The disclosure in July that the U.S. authorities was searching for a prisoner swap involving Griner mirrored the rising strain on the Biden administration to do extra to carry her dwelling. The U.S. State Division had earlier declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a cost that Russia has sharply rejected.

Griner, acknowledged as one of many best gamers in WNBA historical past, has been detained since Feb. 17 after police mentioned they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her baggage upon touchdown at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She was returning to Russia, the place she has competed since 2014.

When she took the stand at her trial July 7, Griner mentioned: “I would like to plead guilty on the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking any Russian law.” She added that she introduced the vape canisters into Russia as a result of she had packed in haste for her flight.

In later testimony, Griner described a complicated scene whereas being held on the airport, saying an interpreter supplied by authorities translated solely a fraction of what was being mentioned to her and that officers advised her to signal paperwork, however “no one explained any of it to me.” She additionally mentioned she was not knowledgeable of her rights.

Her attorneys launched proof that Griner was utilizing the medicinal hashish for continual ache and accidents sustained throughout her profession and included a letter from her physician. Griner testified she was conscious that hashish oil was outlawed in Russia and had not meant to interrupt the legislation or “plan to smuggle anything into Russia.”

Trials in Russia proceed even after admissions of guilt, and there was hypothesis her actions have been an try to maneuver the authorized course of alongside in hopes of a potential prisoner swap.

Griner’s slow-moving case and her almost six months behind bars have raised robust criticism amongst her supporters in the USA, together with her spouse, Cherelle, that President Joe Biden was not doing sufficient to win her freedom.

Griner despatched a private enchantment to Biden, and greater than 1,100 Black feminine leaders urged the administration to “make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly and safely and to meet with Brittney’s wife Cherelle immediately.” Biden later referred to as Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White Home mentioned July 6.

Cherelle Griner, who additionally spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later mentioned she was “grateful to the both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home,” utilizing her spouse’s initials.

On July 27, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned Washington has supplied a deal to Russia aimed toward bringing dwelling Griner and Whelan in a pointy reversal of earlier coverage. Particulars of the proposal weren’t introduced, although an individual aware of the matter mentioned the U.S. has supplied to commerce convicted Russian arms seller Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The individual insisted on anonymity to debate an ongoing investigation.

Her detention was made public solely after Russian troops moved into Ukraine, as relations between Russia and the USA hit new lows after Washington led the West in bringing sanctions in opposition to Moscow.

Griner’s plight has been highlighted by her supporters at dwelling, together with prime athletes, particularly after little information emerged from her preliminary weeks of detention in Russia, the place she had restricted entry to officers from the U.S. Embassy. It was solely in Could that the State Division designated her as wrongfully detained, transferring her case beneath the supervision of its Particular Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, successfully the federal government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. Embassy’s cost d’affaires, has attended the trial within the Moscow suburb of Khimki, the place the airport is situated, and mentioned that American officers are monitoring her case carefully, together with these of all U.S. residents detained or in jail in Russia.

On the ESPY Awards final month, soccer participant Megan Rapinoe referred to Griner as “a political prisoner,” and tennis nice Billie Jean King mentioned, “First, bring BG home. Gotta do that.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephan Curry wore Griner’s jersey beneath his monitor go well with on the awards present and urged “the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf. She’s one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”

Griner, a 6-foot-9 heart, has 12 of the 15 common season dunks in WNBA historical past and set the single-year file for blocks with 129 in 2014. She led the league in scoring twice. She was a two-time Related Press school basketball participant of the 12 months and led Baylor to a 40-0 season and the 2012 NCAA title. She was the No. 1 decide by Phoenix within the 2013 draft.

Russian Media have speculated repeatedly that Griner may very well be swapped for Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who’s serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. residents and offering help to a terrorist group. Russia has agitated for Bout’s launch for years.

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