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Brittney Griner: Russian judge sentences WNBA star to 9 years in prison for drug charges | NBA News

US basketball star Britney Griner has been convicted of drug possession and smuggling in Russia, nine in a politically charged case that could lead to a dangerous prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. He was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and eight-time All-Star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, stared blankly as an interpreter translated Judge Anna Sotnikova’s ruling. A lawyer later said she was “very angry.” Greiner was also fined one million rubles (around £13,400).

US President Joe Biden has denounced the verdict and judgments as “unacceptable” as tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine escalate.

“I urge Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden said, adding that Griner and the Americans imprisoned in Russia had It added that it would continue to work to bring Paul Whelan home. on a spy conviction.

Outside the court, US Embassy Acting Ambassador Elizabeth Roode called the result a “miscarriage of justice.”

Greiner was taken to court

Recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, Greiner has been suspended since February 17 after police announced they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. detained. She is back in Russia where she has been competing since 2014.

When she was taken out of court, Griner said: “I love my family.

The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum that Greiner had been charged with. Lawyers say most Russians with small amounts of drugs get him up to five years in prison.

Defense attorney Maria Bragovolina later told reporters that Griner was “very upset, very stressed. She could barely speak. It’s a difficult time for her.” Told.

Before the unusually quick verdict, an emotional Greiner apologized to his family, teammates and the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia, where he plays in the WNBA offseason, “for the mistakes I made and the embarrassment I caused.” they”.

With her voice trembling, she said, “I hope your ruling does not end my life.”

Griner has 10 days to appeal, and her lawyers say the case will be heard next week in a Moscow district court. Asked if Griner could ask President Vladimir Putin for a pardon, Blagovorina said she would look at all possibilities, but her lawyer said she was not participating in discussions about prisoner exchanges. Stated.

Griner’s attorney, Lindsey Kagawa Chorus, said the ruling was “a draconian one by Russian legal standards and something we’ve known all along that Britney was being used as a political pawn.” She added that she supports Biden’s efforts to “get the deal done.”

Britney Griner (AP)
Griner is an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

A conviction is usually required before a prisoner exchange can be arranged, and a Greiner can also apply for a pardon. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said last month that “necessary judicial procedures” must be completed before any other steps can be taken.

The July disclosure that the U.S. government is seeking to replace prisoners, including Griner, reflected mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to get her back home. The State Department had previously declared Mr. Griner to be “wrongfully detained,” a claim Russia categorically denies.

When appearing in court on July 7, Griner said, “I would like to plead guilty to the charges against me. But I did not mean to break Russian law.” She added that she had brought her vape cans to Russia because she had rushed to pack for her flight.

Griner also described scenes of confusion while being detained at the airport, saying that the interpreter provided by authorities translated only a fraction of what was said to her, and that authorities told her what the documents were. She also said she had not been informed of her rights.

Her attorney introduced evidence that Griner had been using medicinal cannabis for chronic pain and injuries sustained during her career, and included a letter from her doctor. testified that he was aware that cannabis oil was outlawed in Russia and had no intention of breaking the law or “planning to smuggle anything into Russia.”

Griner’s lawsuit and nearly six months in prison have sparked strong criticism among U.S. supporters, including his wife Sherrell, that Biden didn’t do enough to win his freedom. .

Griner appealed to Biden personally, and more than 1,100 black women leaders called on the administration to “help get Britney back home quickly and safely and meet Britney’s wife, Sherrell, soon.” I asked you to make a deal. The White House said on July 6 that Mr. Biden called Sherrel Griner to tell her “that we are working toward the early release of Ms. Britney and to reassure her.”

Sherrel Griner, who also spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later used his wife’s initials to say, “I appreciate the time spent with me and their commitment to bring BG home.” .

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Britney Griner
Greiner held up a personal photo at the hearing

On July 27, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington had offered Russia a deal aimed at bringing Griner and Whelan home, in a major reversal of previous policy. Details of the proposal were not released, but a person familiar with the matter said the United States had offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The person claimed anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be traded for Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death.” Russia has been calling for Bout’s release for years.

The severity of Griner’s sentence could give Russia leverage in the swap by increasing pressure on Washington to negotiate her release.

“I think the harsher the verdict, the more pressure the Biden administration will have to make a deal. Lawyer Tom Firestone, who served as He spoke in Moscow about the Russians before they were sentenced.

Despite US-Russia relations at their worst, the two countries in April sentenced former US Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in Russia, to 20 years in prison after being convicted of being a Russian pilot. successfully exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a drug trafficker Sentences in Connecticut.

Griner’s detention was made public only after Russian troops moved to Ukraine.Relations between Russia and the United States reached a new low after Washington led the West to bring sanctions against Moscow.

Her predicament was underscored by domestic supporters, including top athletes, after little news came out about her detention in Russia during her first weeks of limited access to U.S. diplomats. It was not until May that the State Department found her wrongfully detained and transferred her case to the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who is effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Britney Griner remains in custody in Russia

At last month’s ESPY Awards, football star Megan Rapinoe called Griner a “political prisoner,” while tennis great Billie Jean King said, “First, let’s bring BG home. We have to.” said.

NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry wore Griner’s jersey under his tracksuit at the awards ceremony and called out, “Let the entire sports community around the world continue to energize on her behalf..”

The 6-foot-9-inch center has 12 of the 15 regular-season dunks in WNBA history and set an annual record of 129 blocks in 2014. She led the league in her two scoring runs. She was her two-time AP College Basketball Player of the Year and led Baylor to her 40-0 season and her 2012 NCAA title. She was the number one pick in the 2013 draft by Phoenix.

The WNBA and NBA commissioners described the verdict as “unfair and unfortunate, but not unexpected.. I hope we are nearing the end of this process of finally bringing BG home.”