Brittney Griner appeal rejected by Russian court

Brittney Griner entered the trial via video call from a penal colony outside Moscow, where she was detained.

MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian court on Tuesday upheld a nine-year prison sentence for American basketball star Brittney Griner for drug possession, rejecting her appeal.

Griner, the all-star eight-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced August 4 after police said they found a vape box containing cannabis oil in his luggage her at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

The Moscow District Court upheld the verdict on Tuesday. However, in the ruling, the court announced that Griner’s time in prison would be recalculated with the time spent in pre-trial detention. One day in pre-trial detention will count as 1.5 days in prison, so the basketball star will spend about 8 years in prison.

Griner participated in the Moscow Regional Court hearing via video call from a penal colony outside Moscow, where she was detained.

Griner’s arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where she played during the season of the American league.

Griner admitted she had boxes in her luggage but testified that she had unknowingly packed them in a hurry and had no intention of committing a crime. Her defense team presented written statements saying she was prescribed cannabis to treat the pain.

The nine-year sentence is close to the 10-year maximum, and Griner’s lawyers argued after conviction that the punishment was excessive. In similar cases, they said, defendants received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third being pardoned.

Prior to his conviction, the US State Department claimed Griner was “wrongfully detained” – an allegation Russia has categorically denied.

Reflecting growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing in July that Washington had offered a “major proposal” to bring Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken did not elaborate, but the Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the US and formerly known as the “The merchant of death.”

The White House said it has yet to receive an effective response from Russia to the request.

Russian diplomats declined to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the matter in secret talks, avoiding public statements.

In September, US President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, as well as the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat privately with Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Paul Whelan.

The White House said after the meetings that the president emphasized to the families his “commitment to continue working through all available avenues to get Brittney and Paul home safely.”

The US and Russia did a prisoner swap in April. Moscow released former US Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for the release of a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of a drug-trafficking conspiracy.

Moscow has also pushed for the release of other Russians being held by the United States.

One of them is Alexander Vinnik, who is accused of laundering billions of dollars through an illegal cryptocurrency exchange. Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 and extradited to the US in August.

Vinnik’s French lawyer, Frederic Belot, told Russia’s Izvestia newspaper last month that his client hopes to be part of a possible swap.

The newspaper speculated that one candidate could be Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker. In 2017, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison for hacking and credit card fraud. Brittney Griner appeal rejected by Russian court

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