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Brittney Griner Verdict: Found guilty, 9 years in prison

Before the unusually quick sentence was announced, the US basketball star made a final appeal to the court.

KHIMKI, Russia — U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to drug possession in Russia, a political charge that comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and could lead to a high-profile prisoner exchange. between two world powers.

Griner, 31, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened with a blank expression as an interpreter translated the verdict from referee Anna Sotnikova. The judge also fined him 1 million rubles (about $16,700).

US President Joe Biden called the conviction and sentence “unacceptable”.

“I urge Russia to release him immediately so he can be with his wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden said, adding that he would continue to work to bring home Americans Griner and Paul Whelan, who are imprisoned in Russia. accusation of espionage.

Outside the court, US Embassy chargé d’affaires Elizabeth Rudd called the sentence a “miscarriage of justice”.

Before the unusually quick decision was made, an emotional Griner apologized to her family, teammates and Yekaterinburg, Russia, where she played in the WNBA during the offseason, “for the mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them.”

He added, his voice cracking, “I hope your sentence doesn’t end my life.”

A conviction is usually a prerequisite for arranging a prisoner exchange and also allows Griner to apply for a presidential pardon. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said last month that “necessary court procedures” must be completed before any further steps are taken.

The announcement in July that the U.S. government wanted a prisoner swap involving Griner reflects growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring him home. The US State Department had previously announced that Griner had been “wrongfully arrested” – a charge Russia has vehemently denied.

Griner, considered one of the greatest players in WNBA history, has been detained since Feb. 17 after police say they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. He was returning to Russia, where he had been competing since 2014.

At his arraignment on July 7, Griner said, “I would like to plead guilty to the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking any Russian law.” He added that he brought the vape boxes to Russia because he was in a hurry to pack them for the flight.

In later testimony, Griner described a confusing scene at the airport, saying that an interpreter provided by authorities only translated part of what was said to him and that officials told him to sign documents, but “nobody explained any of that. to me.” He also said that he was unaware of his rights.

His attorneys presented evidence that Griner used cannabis for chronic pain and injuries during his career and included a letter from his doctor. Griner testified that he knew hemp oil was banned in Russia and that he had no intention of breaking the law or “planning to smuggle anything into Russia.”

Trials in Russia continue after the conviction, and there is speculation that his actions were an attempt to prolong the trial in the hope of a possible prisoner exchange.

Griner’s slow-moving case and nearly six months behind bars have drawn sharp criticism from his supporters in the United States, including his wife Cherelle, that he did not do enough to win President Joe Biden’s release.

Griner sent a personal appeal to Biden, and more than 1,100 black women leaders called on the administration to “make a deal to bring Britney home quickly and safely and to reunite with Britney’s wife, Cherelle, immediately.” The White House said on July 6 that Biden later called Cherelle Griner “to assure her that he was trying to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible.”

Cherelle Griner, who also spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later said she was “grateful to both of them for their time with me and their commitment to bringing BG home,” using her husband’s initials.

On July 27, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that Washington had offered Russia a deal to repatriate Griner and Whelan, a sharp reversal from previous policy. Details of the offer were not released, though a person familiar with the matter said the U.S. offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

His detention was announced only after Russian troops entered Ukraine, as relations between Russia and the United States hit a new low after Washington imposed Western sanctions on Moscow.

Griner’s plight has been highlighted by supporters at home, including top athletes, especially after little news emerged about the first weeks he was held in Russia, where he had limited access to US embassy officials. It wasn’t until May that the State Department designated him as wrongfully detained and placed his case under the supervision of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Matters, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rudd attended the trial in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, where the airport is located, and said American officials were closely monitoring her case, along with the case of all US citizens detained or incarcerated. in Russia.

At last month’s ESPY Awards, soccer player Megan Rapinoe called Griner a “political prisoner,” and tennis great Billie Jean King said, “Bring BG home first. It’s got to be done.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephan Curry wore Griner’s jersey at the awards show and “urged the entire global sports community to continue to be energized on his behalf. He is one of us, a 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 the 15 regular season steals in WNBA history and set a single-year record for blocks with 129 in 2014. He led the league in scoring twice. He was a two-time Associated Press college basketball player of the year and led Baylor to a 40-0 season and the 2012 NCAA title. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft by Phoenix.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be replaced by Booth, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death”, who was convicted of killing US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization and served 25 years in prison in the United States. Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years.

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed.

Brittney Griner Verdict: Found guilty, 9 years in prison

Source link Brittney Griner Verdict: Found guilty, 9 years in prison

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