Brittney Griner’s defense team appeals against nine-year prison sentence after U.S. basketball star was convicted on drugs charges in Russia

  • The defense team of Brittney Griner has appealed against her 9-year conviction
  • Griner, who had played for a Russian club, was arrested in Moscow on Feb 17th
  • She was convicted on August 4 after pleading guilty to the charges 

Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner on Monday filed an appeal against her 9-year Russian prison sentence for drugs possession, Russian news agencies reported. 

Griner, who had played for a Russian club, was arrested at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 after cannabis-infused vape cartridges were found in her luggage.

She pleaded guilty to the charges but said she had made an ‘honest mistake’ by entering Russia with cannabis oil, which is illegal in the country. She was convicted on August 4.

Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole. 

US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, is escorted in a court building in Khimki outside Moscow on August 4th. Her lawyers have now formally appealed her sentence

‘She is very upset, very stressed,’ Blagovolina, right, said to reporters. ‘She can hardly talk, honestly. So it’s a difficult time for her’. They are pictured after the August 4th sentencing

The US government says Griner was wrongfully detained.

For weeks, speculation has run rampant that the White House was preparing to negotiate a swap of Griner and Paul Whelan, another US citizen being held in Russian prison, in exchange for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer who was arrested in 2008 in Thailand at the request of the US authorities.

Though the guilty verdict was seen as a foregone conclusion, the imposition of a sentence her lawyers decried as far longer than average could give the US extra impetus to strike a deal palatable to Russia as soon as possible.

‘This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,’ Alexander Darchiev, head of the foreign ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass.

He added: ‘These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.’ 

The formal end of the court case could be the opening both sides need to forge a diplomatic resolution. 

Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina said her client was ‘very upset’ and could ‘hardly talk’ following the sentence.

‘When we saw Brittney, I think it was Tuesday, we told her, ‘see you on Thursday’. And she said, ‘see you on doomsday’ so it looks like she was right,’ Blagovolina said.

The Russians refused to agree on a deal before Griner’s sentence, citing the need for judicial process.

US Basketball player Brittney Griner looks through bars as she listens to the verdict standing in a cage in a courtroom in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 4

A source close to the ongoing negotiations told that a deal to swap Brittney Griner with Viktor Bout is now more likely than ever, and could be completed within a month as the White House scrambles on weakened leverage to get her out of jail

Now, Biden – amid a swell of public pressure from Griner’s fans in the world of sport and Hollywood – is rushing to have her released. 

A source close to the ongoing negotiations told that a deal to swap Griner with Bout is now more likely than ever, and could be completed within a month if there are no delays to the process.

It is now uncertain that the deal would include Paul Whelan, an American who has been locked up on espionage charges since 2018. 

The US had been pushing for a deal that would include both Griner and Whelan. Now that she has been sentenced in the Russian court of law, their leverage is weaker. 

‘The Russians might think Whelan is too much now… after today, his place in the deal is not so certain,’ the source said. 

It is unclear if the deal still includes Paul Whelan, who has been incarcerated in Russia since 2018 on allegations of espionage

Bout now has less time on his sentence now than Griner does. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012. 

He had already served four years and has since completed another ten. 

While Bout technically has 11 years left on his sentence, he must serve only 85 percent of the total term under federal prison guidelines which makes him eligible for release in around five or six.

John Kirby, the US National Security Council Director for Strategic Communications, would only confirm that the US wants to strike a deal. 

The deal has been lambasted by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump who said earlier this week that it was ‘not a good trade’.

Griner with her wife Cherelle, who has been begging for White House help for months 

Source: Read Full Article