WNBA star Brittney Griner “prepared for the worst” from Russian verdict and sentencing, sources say

The trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia on drug charges is expected to end Thursday, with a verdict and conviction expected at any time. Here’s a quick look at how we got to this point.

February 17th: Griner, 31, is arrested while going through customs at Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow. She is there to play for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she has played during the WNBA offseas since 2014. Customs officials say they discovered vape cartridges containing hash oil. Russia has strict drug laws with no exceptions for cannabis under any circumstances. There is no public announcement of their arrest.

February 24th: Russian forces begin an invasion of Ukraine under the orders of Vladimir Putin, triggering a series of harsh economic sanctions from the United States and other Western nations.

5. March: The Russian Federal Customs Service, as reported by The New York Times, announces that it has taken Griner into custody on drug-related charges.

April 27th: Former US Marine Trevor Reed, held in Russia since August 2019, is unexpectedly released from Russian custody in exchange for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been serving a 20-year sentence in the US for drug smuggling. For Griner’s family, the exchange is the first sign of hope that, despite the war in Ukraine, a diplomatic channel will remain open between the two countries.

May 3rd: The US State Department declares Griner an illegal prisoner. No explanation is given for this, but it does mean that the United States will seek to negotiate their release rather than wait for Russia’s case against them to be completed. Up to this point, Griner’s supporters have kept a low profile in case she might be released before trial. After the announcement, they are actively pushing the White House to bring them home. Sources say that Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations (and former governor, cabinet member, and congressman), is working with his organization to secure Griner’s release.

May 13th: Russian state media publish a story that Griner could be traded for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

early June: The United States is secretly offering to trade Bout for Griner and another American wrongly imprisoned, Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian custody since December 2018 on espionage charges.

July 1: Griner’s trial begins in Khimki, a Moscow suburb, for attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia. You face 10 years in prison.

7th of July: Griner pleads guilty but says she accidentally brought hash oil into Russia and had no intention of breaking the law. According to Russian law, the trial will continue until the prosecutor’s entire case is closed. Witnesses are also called, making the rest of the trial a de facto pre-sentencing hearing.

July 19th: The White House announces that President Biden is signing an executive order to hold accountable anyone involved in the wrongful detention of an American citizen. It is intended to create a deterrent for foreign governments.

July 27th: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces that the United States made a “significant offer” for Griner’s release in June. CNN reports that the offer included trading bout for Griner and Whelan.

July 28th: Russian officials respond by saying that all deals should be conducted without fanfare and only after Griner’s trial is complete.

4th of August: The last scheduled day of Griner’s trial. Both sides are expected to present closing arguments, Griner is to have the final say, and a verdict and verdict are expected soon thereafter.

What was Griner’s defense?

US officials and most pundits have said their trial is drama, a way for Russia to maintain a semblance of legitimacy before a deal can be negotiated. Griner’s legal team knew she would be convicted and chose to plead guilty while saying she never intended to break the law. She also said she was denied her rights as a defendant under Russian law when she was arrested. The strategy was to ask the judge for leniency if she made a verdict.

Will it work?

As for the actual sentence, sources told ESPN that Griner was “prepared for the worst,” which is 10 years. But Griner’s family and supporters have always known that the process is only the prelude to the only important consideration: negotiations between the Russian and American governments. Even if she is sentenced to 10 years, the sentence will be considered a matter of negotiation. Legal observers have told ESPN that if Russia hits her with a severe sentence, it would only reinforce the argument that her trial was never fair.

What happens after the sentence?

In the legal field, both sides can appeal. (That’s right, the prosecution can appeal.) But for all purposes, the focus will shift to the diplomatic world. Officials expect Russia may be more inclined to speed up negotiations once Griner is convicted. It wouldn’t be a shock if she were released in a week, but experience shows that talks can drag on for years. WNBA star Brittney Griner “prepared for the worst” from Russian verdict and sentencing, sources say

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