Russian court hears WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal on Tuesday

United States Women’s National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands inside a defendant’s cage before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.

Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – A Russian court will hear WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal on Tuesday after the American athlete was convicted on drug charges earlier this year.

Griner’s lawyers told NBC News before the hearing that the two-time Olympic gold medalist is “pretty pessimistic” that the judge will overturn the court’s original ruling.

“She’s hoping that there will be some reduction in her sentence,” Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s attorney, told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, adding that the 32-year-old athlete will appear in court via video conference.

Griner, who plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February after Russian authorities found vape containers of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

Her lawyers said Griner only uses cannabis medically and accidentally packed the cannabis containers in her suitcase because the professional athlete was busy.

Under Russian law, the charge carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In August, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. She was also ordered to pay 1 million rubles, approximately $16,301.

Brittney Griner convicted in Russian court, sentenced to nine years in prison

The court’s ruling came as the Biden administration struggled to secure her release.

A week before the verdict, the Biden administration confirmed it made an offer to the Russian government for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.

‘I’m afraid I might be here forever’

U.S. WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands inside a defendant’s cage before a hearing at the Khimki District Court outside Moscow on July 26, 2022.

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images

Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking for his direct help with her case.

“I’m sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or other achievements, I’m afraid I could be here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in a month of July. 5 letters.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and … other American prisoners. Please do everything you can to bring us home,” Griner wrote.

After receiving the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Biden also wrote a response to Griner, which US diplomats hand-delivered in Moscow.

Biden assured his wife that he is working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to a White House readout of the call. He also told Cherelle Griner that he is working to free Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.

Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States. At the time of his arrest, Whelan was visiting Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother, David Whelan.

Griner’s arrest and subsequent detention came as the West issued repeated warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw the hundreds of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border. In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbor, the United States and its allies unleashed a series of punitive sanctions against Moscow, building a multibillion-dollar war chest for Kiev.

Two months into the war, Russia agreed to release former US Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange.

Reed was accused of assaulting a Russian police officer and detained by authorities there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence, and the US government described him as unjustly imprisoned.

For Reed’s release, Biden agreed to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States

Russia says it is ready to discuss a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner

Leave a Comment