The verdict came down today in Brittney Griner’s trial in Khimki, Russia. Griner was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. The judge said she deliberately brought drugs into Russia. She has been sentenced to nine years in prison.
Brittney addressed the court before her verdict was announced. She begged for leniency and who would blame her? She is facing up to ten years in a Russian prison. A prosecutor urged that the American basketball star be convicted and sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison. The verdict was expected to be announced uncharacteristically swiftly. It is not a surprise that she was found guilty. Judges have considerable latitude on sentencing.
With a judge set to issue an unusually swift verdict later in the day and a conviction all but certain, Griner made a final appeal to the court. She said she had no intention to break the law by bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, her voice cracking. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Griner said she made “an honest mistake” in bringing the vape cartridges into Russia, adding: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Griner said Yekaterinburg, a city east of the Ural Mountains, had become her “second home.”
“I had no idea that the team, the cities, the fans, my teammates would make such a great impression on me over the 6 1/2 years that I spent here,” she said. “I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls that were in the stands there waiting on me, and that’s what kept making me come back here.”
The prosecutor insisted that Griner packed the cannabis oil deliberately. He asked the court to give Briner a fine of 1 million rubles (about $16,700) in addition to the prison sentence.
Griner’s lawyers have maintained she was not aware that the cannabis oil cartridges were in her suitcase. They asked that Griner be acquitted, as she has no previous criminal record and they touted Griner’s role in “the development of Russian basketball.” Griner’s role in taking her Yekaterinburg team to win multiple championships was brought up by another defense lawyer who noted that she was loved and admired by her teammates.
Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist have sought to bolster Griner’s contention that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage by mistake. They presented character witnesses from the Yekaterinburg team that she plays for in the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment from injuries sustained in her basketball career.
Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner used the cannabis only in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.
She emphasized that Griner was packing in haste after a grueling flight and suffering from the consequences of COVID-19. Blagovolina also pointed out that the analysis of cannabis found in Griner’s possession was flawed and violated legal procedures.
So, what does this do to the prisoner swap deal that is underway, according to recent reports? Well, it likely won’t do anything to the deal right away. With a sentence of nine years, she’ll go off to her prison cell and wait. The Kremlin will have the satisfaction of a guilty verdict for an American athlete. The prisoner swap will remain in negotiations, I would guess. She’s a pawn, as she has been all along. The Russians want the swap to include the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death,” They have now included asking for Vadim Krasikov. Krasikov is a Russian military colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen fighter in 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison. Two Russians for two Americans. Paul Whelan is the second American in the swap negotiations.
I feel for Brittney. However, let this be a reminder to other American athletes who are considering going to play for teams overseas. Is the money worth it? Evil dictators like Mad Vlad Putin do not have any care for human life. They leap at the chance to stick it to Americans, especially during the Biden administration. Putin views Biden as weak and not a threat to his dictatorship.
Addendum: Joe Biden immediately demanded Griner’s release:
BREAKING: Pres. Biden on Brittney Griner's sentence in Russian drug trial: "Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates." https://t.co/sloL1ViXWs pic.twitter.com/hCZ6eoa83N
— ABC News (@ABC) August 4, 2022