Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine
After a Russian court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for a drug smuggling conviction on Thursday, the player’s supporters, teammates and numerous US officials swiftly condemned the decision.
Now, Griner has returned to the detention center where she was held during her weeks-long trial as her lawyers vow to appeal the sentence and the Biden administration attempts to negotiate for her release.
The case: During the trial, Griner pleaded guilty to carrying less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage as she traveled through a Moscow airport on February 17. She testified that she was aware of Russia’s strict drug laws and had no intention of bringing cannabis into the country, saying she was in a rush and “stress packing.”
Her lawyers had hoped that Griner’s guilty plea and statements of remorse would result in a more lenient sentence. In addition to her nine-year sentence, Griner must pay a fine of 1 million rubles (about $16,400).
What’s next: Griner’s legal team will file an appeal to the court’s decision, which they must do within 10 days of the verdict, according to her lawyers.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” they said in a statement.
Prisoner swap: Last week, CNN reported that the Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap, offering to exchange a convicted Russian arms trafficker for Griner and Whelan.
Whelan, a US citizen and former Marine, was handed a 16-year prison sentence in 2018 on espionage charges after a trial the US deemed unfair.
After Griner’s sentence, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said that it was “up to the Russian side” on whether the conviction will open the door for prisoner-swap negotiations.
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