WNBA’s Griner convicted at drug trial, sentenced to 9 years

  • 5 min read
  • Aug 04, 2022

WNBA’s Griner convicted at drug trial, sentenced to 9 years

FILE - WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Greiner speaks to her lawyers as they stand in a cage in a courtroom before a court hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022.  Closing arguments in Brittany Greener's case of possession of cannabis in Russia are set for Thursday.  This comes nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of US-Russian diplomacy.  (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

FILE – WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Greiner speaks to her lawyers as they stand in a cage in a courtroom before a court hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Closing arguments in Brittany Greener’s case of possession of cannabis in Russia are set for Thursday. This comes nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of US-Russian diplomacy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

AP

U.S. basketball star Brittany Greiner was convicted in Russia on Thursday of drug-trafficking charges and sentenced to nine years in prison in a political case that could eventually lead to a major prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow.

Griner, 31, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and eight-time All-Star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened blankly as an interpreter translated the verdict by Judge Anna Sotnikova. Griner was also fined 1 million rubles (about $16,700).

US President Joe Biden called the sentence “unacceptable”, which came amid rising tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine.

“I urge Russia to release him immediately so he can be with his wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden said. Conviction of espionage

Outside the court, the charge d’affaires of the US Embassy, ​​Elizabeth Rudd, called the result a “miscarriage of justice”.

Greiner, considered one of the greatest players in WNBA history, has been in custody since February 17 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. He was returning to Russia, where he has participated since 2014.

“I love my family,” Griner said as he left the courtroom.

The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum Griner had faced on the charges. According to lawyers, most Russians who possess small amounts of drugs are sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.

Defense attorney Maria Blagovlina later told reporters that Griner was “very upset, very stressed. He can hardly speak. This is a difficult time for him.”

Before the unusually swift sentencing, an emotional Griner apologized to her family, her teammates and the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA’s offseason, “for the mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them.”

He added, his voice cracking, “I hope your sentence does not end with my life.”

Under Russian law, Griner has 10 days to appeal, and his lawyers say they expect a hearing next week in a Moscow district court. Asked whether Greiner could seek a pardon from President Vladimir Putin, Blagovlina said they would consider every possibility, but lawyers said they were not part of any discussions about a prisoner exchange.

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

The revelation in July that the US government was seeking a prisoner swap for Greiner reflected mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring him home. The US State Department previously said Griner was “wrongfully detained” – a charge Russia has strongly denied.

When Griner took the stand on July 7, he said, “I want to plead guilty to the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking Russian law.” He added that he brought the vape cans to Russia because he was in a hurry to pack for his flight.

In subsequent testimony, Griner described a confusing scene while being held at the airport, saying that an interpreter provided by authorities translated only part of what was being said to him, and that officials told him to sign documents. , but “nobody explained any of it. Avalanche.” He also said that he was not aware of his rights.

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

Trials in Russia continue even after he pleads guilty, and there is speculation that his actions were an attempt to move the legal process forward in hopes of a possible prisoner exchange.

Greiner’s case and his nearly six months behind bars have sparked criticism among his supporters in the United States, including his wife, Sherrill, that Biden did not do enough to win his freedom.

Greiner sent a personal plea to Biden, and more than 1,100 black women leaders called on the administration to “make an agreement to bring Britney home quickly and safely and to meet immediately with Cheryl, Britney’s wife.” Biden later called Cheryl Greiner to assure her he was working to get Britney released as soon as possible, the White House said on July 6.

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 aimed at repatriating Griner and Whelan, while reversing its previous policy. Details of the offer were not released, although a person familiar with the matter said the United States had offered to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Butte for Whelan and Griner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Griner might be traded for Bout, nicknamed the “merchant of death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiring to kill American citizens and aiding a terrorist organization. Russia has been agitating for Bout’s release for years.

His arrest was made public only after Russian troops moved into Ukraine, as relations between Russia and the United States hit an all-time low after Washington led the West in imposing sanctions on Moscow.

Griner’s plight has been highlighted by his supporters at home, including prominent athletes, especially after little news emerged of the early weeks of his detention in Russia, where he had limited access to US embassy officials. It wasn’t until May that the State Department declared him an illegal detainer and transferred his case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the administration’s chief hostage negotiator.

At last month’s ESPY Awards, soccer player Megan Rapinoe referred to Greiner as a “political prisoner,” and tennis great Billie Jean King said, “First, bring BG home. I have to.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry wore Greiner’s jersey under his tracksuit at the awards show and asked “the entire global sports community to stay energized on his behalf.” He is one of us, the team of athletes tonight and around the world in this room. “A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”

Griner, a 6-foot-9 center, has 12 of 15 regular-season dunks in WNBA history and set the 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 Championship. He was the No. 1 pick by Phoenix in the 2013 draft.

The WNBA and NBA commissioners called the trial’s outcome “inexcusable and unfortunate, but not unexpected, and Brittney Griner remains wrongly in custody.” …Hopefully we’re nearing the end of the process to bring BG home to the US.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed.