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WNBA megastar Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for drug-smuggling

Brittney Griner
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American girls’ basketball big name Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling tablets into Russia and sentenced to 9 years of jail time Thursday in a case that has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s conflict in opposition to Ukraine.

Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court docket delivered the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or approximately $sixteen, four hundred. She stated the courtroom took into consideration Griner’s partial admission of guilt, regret for the deed, country of fitness, and charitable activities. Prosecutors had requested that she be sentenced to nine.5 years in jail.
Prior to the decision, Griner apologized to the court and requested for leniency in an emotional speech.

“I by no means intended to harm anybody, I by no means supposed to install jeopardy the Russian populace, I by no means intended to break any legal guidelines here,” Griner said. “I made a sincere mistake and I wish that in your ruling that it would not stop my lifestyle here. I understand everyone maintains speaking about political pawns and politics, however, I wish that that is a way from this courtroom.
“I want to mention again that I had no reason on breaking any Russian laws. I had no purpose. I did no longer conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she introduced.
After the sentence, Griner advised a velkinews producer as she left the courtroom, “I love my family.”

The verdict comes about six months after the 31-12 months-vintage changed into arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of looking to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her bags. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded responsible to drug prices last month and stated she accidentally packed the medication while in a hurry.

Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a written statement they’ll attract the choice and criticized the courtroom for ignoring their evidence. They have 10 days to attract.
“We are very disillusioned by using the decision. As felony specialists, we believe that the court should be honest to each person irrespective of nationality. The court absolutely unnoticed all of the proof of the defense, and most significantly, the guilty plea,” they stated within the assertion. “This contradicts the prevailing legal practice. Taking into consideration the quantity of the substance (no longer to mention the defects of the know-how) and the plea, the decision is definitely unreasonable. We will in reality file an appeal.”
Speaking outside the court docket, Boykov said that the average time in jail for this type of crime is 5 years, adding that almost a third of these convicted get parole.
Griner “is not doing nice these days,” said Blagovolina, an associate at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin, and Partners law company. The protection team is hopeful that Griner may be capable to talk to her circle of relatives subsequent week. Blagovolina introduced that Griner will go back to the penal complex where she is being held.

The harsh sentence comes amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s saber-damn with the United States and Europe. The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and US officers have supplied a capability prisoner change with Russia in an try to bring her domestic correctly.
Charge d’Affaires of the USA Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said the sentence turned into a “miscarriage of justice,” and US President Joe Biden stated the prolonged sentence become “unacceptable.”

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner obtained a jail sentence this is one greater reminder of what the sector already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she may be with her wife, cherished ones, pals, and teammates,” Biden said in an announcement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Russian prison system greater widely, saying the sentence “places a spotlight on our tremendous issues with Russia’s felony device and the Russian authorities’ use of wrongful detentions to enhance its own agenda, using people as political pawns.”
He said the USA is operating to convey home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen who has been held through Russia for alleged espionage for the reason that 2018. “This is an absolute precedence of mine and the Department’s,” Blinken stated.
It’s now “up to the Russian facet” on whether or not Griner’s conviction opens new doorways for negotiations of a prisoner swap, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby stated.
“We’re nevertheless open to having our proposal critically and undoubtedly taken into consideration, and if at the Russian facet which means they feel like they’re extra empowered to do that, then so be it,” Kirby told newshounds in Thursday’s White House briefing.
Kirby reiterated the USA function stays that it desires Russia to “take the deal on the table because it’s an awesome one, it’s a fair one, and it’s going to assist convey Paul and Brittney home.”
velkinews National Security Analyst Steve Hall stated the cruel sentence become now not a surprise and argued that Russia’s court proceedings aren’t valid.
“This is all overall performance in Russia. There turned into never any doubt as to what changed into going to occur,” he said. “What Vladimir Putin is trying to do is largely drive up the bargaining charge of Ms. Griner.”

Last week, velkinews stated that the Biden management proposed a prisoner switch with Russia, offering to launch a convicted Russian fingers trafficker, Viktor Bout, in change for Griner and Whelan. Russian officials countered America offer, multiple assets acquainted with the discussions have said, but US officials did no longer take delivery of the request as a legitimate counteroffer.
The Kremlin warned Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will now not help negotiations for a prisoner exchange involving Griner. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believes these talks ought to be “discrete.”
Griner’s WNBA crew, the Phoenix Mercury, performed the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night. Before the game, the teams held a 42-2d seconds of silence as players linked palms. Near the cease of the tribute, spectators started out chanting, “Bring her domestic! Bring her home!” Griner, a six-time WNBA all-superstar, wears No. 42 for the Mercury.
The Mercury lost 77-64. Point protect Skylar Diggins-Smith, wearing a “We Are BG” T-blouse, said after the sport the verdict turned into devastating.
“Nobody wanted to even play today,” she told reporters. “How are you presupposed to approach the sport, technique the courtroom and with clean thoughts, and our whole group is crying earlier than the game? Because you attempt to honor her and you attempt to pop out and still play difficult for her.”
Earlier, Mercury released a statement calling the decision “a sobering milestone within the 168-day nightmare” of her detention.
“We are inspired every day by using BG’s electricity and we’re steadfastly devoted to keeping her pinnacle-of-mind publicly till she is safely returned on American soil. We will now not permit her to be forgotten. We are BG,” the declaration reads.
Head train Vanessa Nygaard informed velkinews of the responsible verdict and Griner’s sentence is “unacceptable.”
“It’s just heartbreaking,” the educate said. “To hear her phrases and her apologies. Just seeking to ship love, prayers, and strength to her.”
In a joint assertion, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver criticized the verdict and sentence as “unjustified and unlucky, however now not surprising.”
“The WNBA and NBA’s dedication to her safe return has now not wavered and it is our hope that we are close to the cease of this process of in the end bringing BG home to the USA,” they stated.
Defense asked for leniency in closing arguments
The court hearing Thursday started out rapidly after Griner arrived in handcuffs, escorted by way of Russian officials into the defendant’s cage. Once uncuffed, she spoke with her felony team and then held up an image of the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball group, the Russian squad she played for during the WNBA offseason.
In final arguments, Blagovolina argued that Griner in no way used marijuana in Russia and that she by no means had the purpose of doing so. She had no want to convey the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer brought. All this confirms the complete absence of intent in her movements, Blagovolina argued.

Even if Griner ever used clinical marijuana, it was only at domestic back in Arizona, uncommon and only with a physician’s prescription, she brought. She could not have known how strict the laws had been in Russia, Blagovolina said.
Boykov additionally argued Griner had no possibility to correctly take a look at the court docket files. He stated that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to apply their native language and the loose preference of the language of verbal exchange.
Boykov cited an example whilst a language interpreter furnished to Griner flipped via a prolonged file presented with the aid of an investigator for translation and then instructed Griner, “Basically, it method that you are guilty.”
Throughout the trial, Griner’s attorneys have laid out arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and claiming her detention become not treated efficaciously after she changed stopped on February 17 by way of personnel on the Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Her detention, search and arrest were “mistaken,” Boykov said last week, noting extra information would be discovered throughout the ultimate arguments.

After she changed into stopped at the airport, Griner become made to sign documents that she did not completely recognize, she testified. At first, she said, she become the usage of Google translate on her smartphone however turned into later moved to another room in which her smartphone changed into taken and she turned into made to sign extra files.
No legal professional changed into the present, Griner testified, and her rights were now not explained to her. Those rights would include get entry to a legal professional once she became detained and the proper to recognize what she turned into suspected of. Under Russian regulation, she ought to be knowledgeable of her rights within 3 hours of her arrest.
On Tuesday, on the seventh hearing in her case, a protection expert testified that the examination of the substance contained in Griner’s vape cartridges did not observe Russian regulations. Blagovolina additionally told velkinews her group’s experts diagnosed “some defects” in the machines used to degree the substance.
At trial, Griner testified she has a medical doctor’s prescription for clinical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia. Following her detention in February, she turned into examined for drugs and turned into easy, her lawyers previously stated.
“We preserve to insist that, through indiscretion, in a hurry, she packed her suitcase and did now not be aware of the fact that substances allowed for use inside the United States ended up on this suitcase and arrived within the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center, has said.

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