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Britney Griner found guilty in Russian court

Britney Griner (center) is escorted before a hearing in a courtroom in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, Russia, Thursday, August 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

In her metal courtroom cage, a solemn, stone-faced Britney Griner ponders how long she’ll be locked up in a Russian prison if the Biden administration can’t broker a deal to secure her release. I learned something

A Russian judge on Thursday rejected the WNBA star’s emotional apology and lenient plea for his “honest mistake” in bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country last February, handing him a harsh nine-year sentence. was handed over.

Griner was convicted of drug possession and drug smuggling for criminal purposes. The judge fined Grine her one million rubles, about US$16,300, and sentenced Grine to the maximum ten years in prison she was entitled to receive.

When the judge announced Griner’s verdict in Russian, a translator relayed what the WNBA star said. No, but her supporters were largely silent.

Standing outside the court, Elisabeth Roode, chief envoy to the US Embassy in Moscow, called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice.”

President Biden soon after said that Griner’s nine-year sentence was “unacceptable” and promised to “work tirelessly and pursue all means” to bring her back home.

“I urge Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden added.

In a joint statement to reporters, Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovorina and Alexander Boykov, said her nine-year sentence was “absolutely unreasonable” and “will certainly appeal.” rice field.

“As legal professionals, we believe that courts should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” the lawyer’s statement said. legal practice. “

The judge’s ruling came about six months after she flew to Moscow’s airport, when Russian customs officials allegedly found .702 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage. , weighs less than a pen cap or a stick of gum, but prosecutors argued it was enough to meet the “substantial amount” standard set by Russian law, prompting the judge to give Griner nine years. I asked for a sentence of half imprisonment.

In her closing statement to the final judges in Thursday’s closing arguments, an emotional Griner apologized to her family, her teammates and her Russian club for “the embarrassment I caused them”. did.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” she said. I did, and I hope that your decision will not end my life here.

“I know everyone keeps talking about political means and politics, but I hope it stays far from this court. I want to say again that I never intended to break Russian law. I didn’t mean to. Please commit this crime.”

It was only natural that Greiner’s words fell on deaf ears. For weeks, experts have said the real purpose of Griner’s trial was to feign legitimacy to the Kremlin’s desire to detain her until it can extract concessions from the United States for her return. The conviction and lengthy sentence were the result of the Biden administration’s greatest leverage in Russia as it faces mounting pressure to bring Griner home.

“Look, unfortunately, Russians are good at this sort of thing,” said David Salvo, a former State Department diplomat and deputy director of the Secure Democracy Alliance and an expert on Russian foreign policy. “It’s a really unfortunate scenario for Britney. I will try to do the best I can.”

As Griner’s trial unfolds in a cramped courtroom on the outskirts of Moscow, the question of her fate is also being debated at the highest levels of U.S.-Russia diplomacy. I spoke to the director and another American whom the government believes has been unjustly detained.

Brinken declined to share details of the offer, but reports say President Biden has authorized the deal to trade a notorious Russian arms trafficker with high-level ties to government and military intelligence. He is serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois federal prison for conspiring to murder an American and sell arms to Colombian terrorists.

Griner’s sentence and conviction essentially ends one chapter of her detention and begins another. Russia has hinted that it will take negotiations more seriously once Griner’s trial is over — and her eventual term in Russian prison will lead to negotiations between Russia and the United States to bring her back home. Determined by how long it takes.

William Pomerantz, an expert on Russian law and politics, predicted that the Kremlin would be in no rush to accept the Biden administration’s two-to-one offer to Bout. Vladimir Putin has not faced the same level of urgency to bring Mr. Bout home.

“The U.S. almost had the upper hand, but now Russia has the upper hand,” said Mr. Pomerantz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute. “They can now decide if this prisoner exchange will happen and how quickly this will move.”

As Greena awaited diplomatic negotiations, there was little she could do to help her own ends. All she and her team of attorneys could do was insist on a lenient sentence.

On July 7, Griner inadvertently confessed to violating Russian law, telling a judge that he had hurriedly packed his things and accidentally brought an e-cigarette cartridge. We have summoned human witnesses and provided mitigating evidence to support the WNBA star’s account.

The team captain and team director of Griner’s Russian basketball club testified on her behalf, describing her as an exemplary citizen on and off the court. Griner’s attorney also presented the court with an American doctor’s letter that Griner was prescribed medical marijuana for her to help cope with chronic pain from her past basketball injury.

In the end it didn’t matter.

“They will give her a lot of time, and then they will try to trade her,” Jamison Firestone, a lawyer and Russian legal expert, said earlier this week.