U.S. basketball big name Brittney Griner become convicted Thursday in Russia of drug ownership and sentenced to 9 years in jail following a politically charged trial that got here amid hovering tensions among Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and will cause a high-stakes prisoner trade among the 2 global powers.
The 31-year-vintage Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and a eight-time all-big name with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury listened with a clean expression as an interpreter translated the decision through Judge Anna Sotnikova. The choose additionally fined 1 million rubles (approximately $16,000) first-rate.
“I by no means supposed to harm every body to install jeopardy the Russian populace or violate any Russian laws. I made an sincere mistake and I desire that your ruling, that it does not quit my existence here,” Griner advised the courtroom docket in advance Thursday, apologizing to her family, her teammates, her fanatics, and the Russian people.
“I understand all of us continues speakme approximately political pawn and politics, however I desire that this is a ways from this courtroom… I desire you remember all of the documents, all of the individual lists that everyone has despatched in on my behalf… This is my 2nd domestic, and all I desired to do become simply win championships and lead them to proud,” she stated.
U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the decision and sentence as “unacceptable.”
“I name on Russia to launch her right now so she may be together along with her spouse, cherished ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden stated, including that he could hold to paintings to carry domestic Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.
As Griner become taken from the courtroom docket after the decision, she advised reporters: “I love my family.” Her legal professionals stated she become very upset, stressed, and will rarely talk.
Earlier withinside the session, with a conviction all however certain, an emotional Griner made a very last enchantment to the courtroom docket for leniency. She stated she had no purpose to interrupt the regulation through bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil while she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball withinside the metropolis of Yekaterinburg.
“I need to make an apology to my teammates, my club, my fanatics and the metropolis of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I introduced on them,” Griner stated, her voice cracking. “I need to additionally make an apology to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury corporation again at domestic, the super ladies of the WNBA, and my super partner again at domestic.”
Under Russian regulation, the 31-year-vintage Griner faces up to ten years in jail, however judges have great range on sentencing.
If she does now no longer pass free, interest will flip to the opportunity of a high-stakes prisoner change that become proposed closing week through U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his Russian counterpart.
Griner stated Yekaterinburg, a metropolis east of the Ural Mountains, had grow to be her “2nd domestic.”
“I had no concept that the crew, the cities, the fanatics, my teammates could make any such brilliant influence on me over the 6 half years that I spent here,” she stated. “I don’t forget vividly popping out of the fitness center and all of the little ladies that had been withinside the stands there ready on me, and that is what stored making me come again here.”
Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko insisted that Griner packed the hashish oil deliberately, and he requested the courtroom docket at hand Briner a first-rate of one million rubles (approximately $16,700) further to the jail sentence.
Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury middle and two-time Olympic gold medalist have sought to reinforce Griner’s rivalry that she had no crook cause and that the canisters ended up in her bags through mistake. They supplied individual witnesses from the Yekaterinburg crew that she performs for withinside the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a health practitioner who stated he prescribed her hashish for ache remedy from accidents sustained in her basketball career.
Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner used the hashish best in Arizona, wherein clinical marijuana is criminal.
She emphasised that Griner become packing in haste after a grueling flight and stricken by the outcomes of COVID-19. Blagovolina additionally mentioned that the evaluation of hashish determined in Griner’s ownership become mistaken and violated criminal procedures.
Blagovolina requested the courtroom docket to acquit Griner, noting that she had no beyond crook document and hailing her position in “the improvement of Russian basketball.”
Another protection attorney, Alexander Boykov, emphasised Griner’s position in taking her Yekaterinburg crew to win a couple of championships, noting that she become cherished and prominent through her teammates. He advised the choose that a conviction could undermine Russia’s efforts to expand countrywide sports activities and make Moscow’s name to depoliticize sports activities sound shallow.
Boykov delivered that even after her arrest, Griner gained the sympathy of each her guards and jail inmates, who supported her through shouting, “Brittney, the whole lot can be OK!” while she went on walks on the jail.
Before her trial started in July, the State Department detailed her as “wrongfully detained,” shifting her case below the supervision of its unique presidential envoy for hostage affairs, successfully the government’s leader hostage negotiator.
Then closing week, in an super move, Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to simply accept a deal below which Griner and Whelan could pass free.
The Lavrov-Blinken name marked the highest-stage recognised touch among Washington and Moscow on account that Russia despatched troops into Ukraine greater than 5 months ago. The direct outreach over Griner is at odds with U.S. efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
People acquainted with the thought say it envisions buying and selling Griner and Whelan for the infamous palms dealer Viktor Bout, who’s serving a jail sentence withinside the United States. It underlines the general public strain that the White House has confronted to get Griner released.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated Monday that Russia has made a “awful faith” reaction to the U.S. government’s offer, a counteroffer that American officers do not regard as serious. She declined to elaborate.
Russian officers have scoffed at U.S. statements approximately the case, pronouncing they display a disrespect for Russian regulation. They remained poker-confronted, urging Washington to talk about the difficulty through “quiet international relations with out releases of speculative information.”
In a handwritten letter from Griner that become brought to the White House closing month, the WNBA participant wrote how terrified she is that she can be imprisoned in Russia “forever.”
Griner’s spouse Cherelle advised “CBS Mornings” that once she examine the letter, she should sense the worry that Griner become experiencing.
“She might be the most powerful man or woman that I understand, so she does not say phrases like that lightly. That manner she actually is terrified that she might also additionally by no means see us again. You understand, I percentage the ones equal sentiments,” Cherelle stated.