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After a six-month detention and a one-month trial, Brittney Griner was convicted and sentenced to nine years in Russian jail for drug-smuggling. Brittney had pled guilty to the charges, but said there was no intent. The sentence is just under the 10-year maximum. Brittney spoke in court before the verdict, apologized, and asked for leniency, saying that she “never meant to hurt anybody,” it was “an honest mistake,” and she hoped the ruling wouldn’t “end [her] life here.” Her lawyers said they would appeal, that court ignored evidence, and that the average jail time for this is usually five years.
American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time Thursday in a case that has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court delivered the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said the court took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities. Prosecutors had asked that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.
Prior to the verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that, that is far from this courtroom.
“I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she added.
After the sentence, Griner told a CNN producer as she left court, “I love my family.”
The verdict comes about six months after the 31-year-old was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.
Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement they will appeal the decision and criticized the court for ignoring their evidence. They have 10 days to appeal…
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence “puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns.”
Most cases like these, in Russia, result in a conviction and jail time. So this verdict was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but disheartening nonetheless. The New York Times described the situation thusly: “Her conviction was thought to be a formality and a prerequisite for a prisoner swap that could lead to her return to the United States.” As the court case was ongoing, the Biden administration offered a “substantial proposal” to Russia in order to bring home Brittney and another American detainee, Paul Whelan. They were said to be offering a Russian arms dealer in exchange for Brittney and Paul, however negotiations stalled when Russia requested to add a convicted murderer in German custody to the swap. Experts quoted in the NYT are mixed, with some thinking negotiations will ramp up now that Brittney has been sentenced and others thinking that the deal will not take place anytime soon. At this point, the National Security Council has said further public discussion of the negotiations is likely unhelpful for the two American prisoners. Another NYT article has more details on what is possibly coming next for Brittney and what considerations the US may be weighing as they continue to negotiate her and Paul’s release. In the meantime, Brittney is back at the same detention center and her lawyers are hoping to get her in touch with her family next week. Brittney is said to have “won over” some of the guards and other inmates at the detention center. It’s still a completely sh-tty situation, at least she’s not totally isolated in solitude there and her lawyers seem solid.