WNBA star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday in Russia of cannabis possession and sentenced to nine years in prison — despite her insistence that she “made an honest mistake” and her tearful pleas for mercy.
Standing in a cage reserved for defendants at the Khimki court outside Moscow, Griner, 31, remained stone-faced upon hearing the verdict.
As part of the punishment phase, Griner also will be required to pay a $16,300 fine. Asked if she understood the sentence, Griner replied in English: “Yes, I understand, your honor.”
Later, as she was being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, Griner told a gaggle of reporters: “I love my family.”
Minutes after sentencing, the White House released a statement on behalf of President Biden, condemning the outcome of Griner’s drug trial.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” the statement read. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
Biden vowed to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring Griner and American Paul Whelan, who is also jailed in Russia, home “as soon as possible.”
Brittney Griner is escorted in handcuffs after the court’s verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia.REUTERS Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, August 4, 2022.EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS POOL Griner inside a Russian cell.REUTERS
Speaking outside of the courthouse, Griner’s Russian legal team said they have not been contacted about efforts to facilitate a prisoner exchange.
“Maybe we’ll hear something. I don’t know. It has not been discussed with us,” attorney Maria Blagovolina said
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that a US offer — widely suspected to be an offer to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan — was still on the table.
“We’re still open to having our proposal seriously and positively considered,” Kirby said Thursday. “We want them to take the offer that’s on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one and it’ll help to bring Paul and Brittney home”
Kirby refused to comment on the details of the proposal, but said that negotiations were continuing.
“Conversations are ongoing on multiple levels,” he said.
Griner’s lawyer said that her client’s mood following the verdict was “bad” and she was feeling “disheartened.” She said they were “very surprised” by the verdict and planned to appeal the case.
“We certainly believe this sentencing does not match the act that was committed,” Blagovolina said. “Moreover, it goes completely against legal precedent related to this statute, taking into consideration the quantity (of cannabis) and Griner’s admission of guilt.”
She added: “We are definitely going to appeal. We certainly disagree, are surprised and disappointed with the Khimki court’s ruling today.”
Brittney Griner (center) is escorted into the courtroom on Aug. 4.AP Griner confers with attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov before Thursday’s hearing.REUTERS Griner holds a photo in the courtroom. AP The 6-foot-9 WNBA star faced close to a decade in Russian prison.Reuters
Earlier at Thursday’s hearing, Griner, with her voice quivering, acknowledged her “mistake” and pleaded for leniency.
“I want the court to understand that this was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back to my team,” Griner said, referring to her packing vape cartridges in her luggage on her way to Russia in February.
“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” she continued. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”
Speaking from the White House after the sentencing, Kirby said it was not uncommon for Russian courts to throw the book at foreigners.
“Historically speaking, foreigners that are arrested on drug charges and then convicted under their system tend to get much higher sentences than [Russian citizens],” he said
“She shouldn’t have even been on trial — she’s wrongfully detained,” Kirby continued. “We find the sentence reprehensible in its scope.”
Griner, who pleaded guilty to the charges, said she did not intend to break Russian law, and that her parents had taught her to take ownership of her errors.
In the course of her trial, Griner testified that she inadvertently placed cannabis cartridges into her bag while “stress-packing” for her trip to Russia, where she was contracted to play basketball for a local team during WNBA’s off-season.
The two-time Olympic champion insisted that she did not plan to bring the vape cartridges containing 0.7 grams of cannabis oil to Russia, or use them there, because she was aware of local drug laws.
Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center have presented character witnesses from the Russian team and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment.
Her lawyers claimed that Griner brought the cartridges with her to Russia inadvertently and only used cannabis as medicine and only while in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.
A prosecutor, Nikolai Vlasenko, argued that Griner packed the cannabis oil deliberately.
Griner’s lawyer, Blagovolina, did not rule out the possibility of petitioning for clemency if the athlete’s appeal attempt fails, saying: “We’ll do everything possible to get her freed. She certainly does not deserve to serve 9 years.”
Griner on Thursday passed through her attorneys a private message to her family in the US, which was not shared with the media.
“The family wants her to come home.” Blagovolina, her attorney, said. “Everyone is waiting for her.”
Her guilty verdict and 9-year sentence were met with universal condemnation in American diplomatic and government circles.
Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, who followed Griner’s trial and attended the hearing on Thursday, delivered a statement outside the Khimki courthouse, in which she called the WNBA star’s sentencing “a miscarriage of justice.”
“The US Department of State has determined that Ms. Griner was wrongly detained,” Rood said. “Nothing in today’s decision changes that determination.”
She added that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Biden and the entire American government “remain committed to bringing Ms. Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones.”
Blinken, who was attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gala dinner in Cambodia when the verdict was announced in Russia, released a statement, saying that Griner sentencing “compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.”
Kirby said in an interview with MSNBC that Blinken will likely try to speak about Griner with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the meeting in Cambodia.
Surveillance footage shows the WNBA star at the airport.Russian Federal Customs Service Griner’s lawyer, Blagovolina, did not rule out the possibility of petitioning for clemency if Griner’s appeal attempt fails.Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via ZUMA Press/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images/Russian Federal Customs Service
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in an interview with MSNBC that Blinken will likely try to speak about Griner with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the meeting in Cambodia.
“I have no doubt that if he has an opportunity to buttonhole Mr. Lavrov, he will do so. And if he doesn’t, if it doesn’t just happen organically, I’m sure Secretary Blinken will reach out and have that communication,” Kirby said.
Russian officials have scoffed at US statements about the case, saying they’ve shown disrespect for Russian law. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information.”
Griner’s lawyer, Blagovolina, did not rule out the possibility of petitioning for clemency if Griner’s appeal attempt fails.Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via ZUMA Press Griner on Thursday passed through her attorneys a private message to her family in the US, which was not shared with the media.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Before Griner’s trial began in July, the State Department designated her as “wrongfully detained,” moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Then last week, in an extraordinary move, Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Lavrov, urging him to accept the US offer.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that American officials don’t regard as serious. She declined to elaborate.
Jean-Pierre on Thursday again pressed Moscow to accept the US offer.
“We urge Russia to accept that proposal,” she said at a White House press briefing. “I’m not able to share more publicly at this time, but we are willing to take every step necessary to bring home our people, as we demonstrated with Trevor Reed. And that’s what we’re going to do here. I can assure you, that this is something the President and our national security team are focused on every single day. “
With Post Wires
This article originally appeared on https://nypost.com/2022/08/04/russia-prosecutors-seek-9-5-year-sentence-for-brittney-griner/