Russian court rejects Griner’s appeal

MOSCOW (AP) — A court in Russia on Tuesday upheld the nine-year prison sentence against American basketball player Brittney Griner for drug possession, rejecting an appeal.

Griner, a two-time Olympic champion center with the United States and a star for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, was sentenced on August 4 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

The Moscow regional court ruled on Tuesday in favor of upholding the sentence. In its decision, the court said, however, that the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated to take into account his pre-trial detention. One day of that period will count as a day and a half in prison, which means the basketball player would serve around eight years.

Griner, 32, participated in the hearing via video from the penal colony outside Moscow where he is serving his sentence.

His arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, days before Russia invaded Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where he played during the American league offseason.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Tuesday’s decision “another failure of justice, compounding the injustice of his detention,” adding that “ensuring his freedom is our priority.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that President Joe Biden is “willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make difficult decisions to bring Americans back to the country.”

In turn, the WNBA players’ union said the ruling is “further proof that BG is not only being arbitrarily detained, she is clearly a hostage.”

Griner admitted that he had the cannabis oil in his luggage, but stated that he inadvertently packed it in a hurry and had no criminal intent. Her legal team submitted written statements saying the player had been prescribed cannabis for pain.

The nine-year sentence is close to the maximum of 10, and his lawyers have argued the punishment is excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of five years in prison, with a third of them receiving probation.

Before sentencing, the US State Department said Griner was “arbitrarily detained,” a charge Russia denies.

In July, Blinken took the unusual step of revealing that the Biden administration had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia for the return of Griner, along with that of Paul Wheelan, an American serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage. .

Blinken did not elaborate at the time, but the Associated Press and other media organizations have reported that Washington offered to trade Griner and Wheelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States who was dubbed “The Merchant of Death.”

The White House has not received a response to its offer.

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Russian court rejects Griner’s appeal