August 19, 2022

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Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in prison for drug trafficking in Russia

(CNN) –– American basketball player Britney Greiner, who was detained in Russia, was sentenced Thursday in a Moscow court to nine years in prison for drug trafficking with criminal intent. The conviction comes amid concerns that the WNBA star is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Judge Anna Sotnikova also fined the athlete 1 million rubles (approximately $16,400). He also said that the court took into account his partial admission of guilt, remorse for the act, health and charitable activities. Prosecutors in the case asked for 9 1/2 years in prison in closing arguments.

Brittney Griner awaits the verdict of the trial inside the defendants’ cage in Khimki, outside Moscow, on August 4. (Credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Griner was detained in February when authorities found his luggage at a Moscow airport Less than a gram of cannabis oilAccording to Russian prosecutors.

Britney Griner’s lawyers, Maria Plakovolina and Alexander Baikov, said in a post-sentence statement that the court had ignored all the evidence they presented and that they would appeal the verdict.

“We are very disappointed with the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone, regardless of their nationality. The court completely ignored all the defense evidence and more importantly, the statement of guilt,” he said in the statement.

They have 10 days to appeal the sentence, Blakovolina explained in subsequent statements to the press. He also pointed out that the average prison term for this type of crime is 5 years. He added that almost a third of those convicted get parole.

Blakovolina told reporters that Griner was “not doing well.” He further informed that he will be returned to the detention camp where he is currently detained.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope your mistake doesn’t end my life here.”

Before the verdict was announced, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech. “I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian people, I never wanted to break any law here,” the athlete told the Khimki city court.

Arriving in court in handcuffs, Griner continued: “I made an honest mistake and I hope your verdict doesn’t end my life here. I know everyone is still talking about political pawns and politics. But I hope it’s far from this. Courtroom.” “, he continued.

(Credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

He then added, “I did not intend to violate any Russian law. I did not intend to. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.”

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“That’s why I pleaded guilty. I understand everything that was said against me, the charges against me, that’s why I pleaded guilty. But I don’t want to violate any Russian law.”

In early July, Griner He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in an attempt to get a reduced sentence. His arrest and investigation caused a stir International outrageThe US State Department has described his detention as illegal.

Biden: Punishment “unacceptable”

The ruling comes six months after the 31-year-old star athlete was arrested and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that Griner’s prison sentence was “unacceptable.” “Today, US citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence, another reminder of what the world already knows: Russia has wrongfully detained Britney. This is unacceptable, and I urge Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her.” His wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

For his part, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, rejected the sentence, saying it added to the “injustice of his detention”. He said the ruling “highlights our significant concerns about Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of individuals as political pawns in unjust detention to advance its own agenda.”

“Nothing in today’s decision changes our determination that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained, and we will continue to work to bring Brittney and wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home,” Blinken said in a statement Thursday. “It’s a top priority for me and the department.”

Also, John Kirby, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, echoed Biden’s comments. “This sentence, this hearing, reaffirms what we’ve been saying: Britney has been wrongfully detained, and the Russian authorities must immediately release her so she can stay home.” “The president will be 100% committed to achieving that end,” Kirby said during an appearance on MSNBC.

In that vein, he pointed to a “serious proposal” by the United States to exchange prisoners with the Russians. “We’re asking the Russians, again, to seriously consider that plan and act on it. And let’s get these two Americans home from where they are,” Kirby said.

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In the midst of athletic testing in Russia, CNN exclusively reported on July 27 Joe Biden’s government gave to Russia A prisoner exchange That included Griner and Paul Whelan, an American prisoner serving a 25-year sentence in the United States in exchange for a Russian arms dealer.At the time, a plan that the basketball player’s lawyers said surprised them.

Brittney Griner is being sued in Russia

Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after authorities found him Less than a gram of cannabis oil in his luggage, according to Russian prosecutors.

Brittney Griner is led into a Moscow courtroom to hear the verdict in her trial on August 4, 2022. (Credit: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Griner testified at his trial last week that no lawyer was present and his rights were not explained to him, which Russian law says must happen within three hours. Those rights include the right to know what she is suspected of and the right to access a defense lawyer from the moment she is detained, including the possibility of a private meeting before the authorities’ first interrogation.

In addition, Griner said she signed documents that were unclear to her and had to use Google Translate on her phone to understand what was going on.

Alexander Boykov, one of the basketball player’s lawyers, said at a hearing that Griner’s detention, search and arrest were “wrong.” This Thursday Baikov argued that the basketball player did not have the opportunity to properly review the court documents. He said the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their own language and to freely choose the language of communication.

The Brittney Griner case: Joe Biden’s settlement 1:08

In closing arguments on Thursday, the athlete’s lawyer, Maria Blakovolina, argued that Griner had never used marijuana in Russia and had never used it. He added that there is no need to bring vape cartridges into the country.

And all this, he explained, confirms the complete lack of purpose in his actions. Although Griner occasionally used medical marijuana, it was only at his home in Arizona, irregularly and by prescription. He could not know how strict the laws were in Russia, Blakovolina added.

In his testimony last week, the Olympic medalist said he was aware of Russia’s drug laws and that the cannabis oil ended up in his luggage because he was “stressed out” in a hurry. “I still don’t understand how it fits in my bags,” Griner said.

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Brittney Griner: I know and respect the laws of Russia

In the statement, Griner “confirmed that he had a medical prescription for the use of medical cannabis,” which is “a very popular treatment among professional athletes. He insisted that he had no plans to bring it to Russia or use it,” the lawyer explained. Maria Blakovolina to reporters after last week’s hearing.

Griner told the court that he was confined to a wheelchair for four months due to a knee injury. The athlete also insisted that he did not use it before the competitions to avoid possible disqualification.

“No, I would never put it at risk. I never want to hurt my team,” Griner said. Earlier, his lawyers pointed out that the basketball player He was drug tested And the results came out clean.

Griner “explained to the court that he knew and respected the laws of Russia and never intended to violate them,” Blakovolina said. Griner told the court that she enjoyed playing basketball in the country during the WNBA season and that her club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, had become a second home to her, the attorney added.

Britney Greiner’s Proposition of Trade

Amidst Griner’s arrest and trial, months of internal debate within the Biden administration culminated in a U.S. offer to trade Griner and Whelan in late July — a prison term condemned by Washington as unjustified in Russia. Dealer Victor Bott told CNN people with knowledge of the plan.

The plan has the support of President Joe Biden and defies opposition from the Justice Department, which generally opposes prisoner transfers, sources said.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said last week that Biden was “directly involved” and signed off on the plan “presented in Moscow.” But he declined to provide further details or Confirm that match is part of the proposal. Blinken said he would also speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days. This will be their first conversation Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Griner’s attorneys, Blakovolina and Boykov, first learned of the potential trade through news reports, they said at the time. Although they did not participate in those discussions, both noted that they were happy with any creative outcome.

CNN’s Chris Liakos, Travis Caldwell, Dakin Anton, Abby Philip, Kaitlan Collins, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood, Michael Conte, Christian Sierra, DJ Judd, Shawna Mizell, Anneclaire Stapleton and Brian Wirebaugh contributed to this report.