News Update

Russian court finds WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling

By ,

WNBA star Brittney Griner learned her fate Thursday as a Russian court found her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. The judge sentenced Griner to nine years in a Russian penal colony.

Griner was arrested Feb. 17 at the Sheremetyevo International Airport after Russian authorities found THC vape cartridges in Griner’s luggage. She was returning to the country to play on a Russian team she plays with during the WNBA off season. At the direction of her attorneys, she admitted to having the cartridges. She said she accidentally packed them in her bag when she left Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.

During closing arguments, Griner apologized to her family and her team and repeated that she never intended to break the law.

Going into the trial, it was expected that Griner would likely be found guilty and could be facing 10 years in prison. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and in Russia, acquittals can be overturned.

The basketball star plays center for the Phoenix Mercury and is a two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist. Her wife, Cherelle, called Griner a “political pawn” and has lobbied President Joe Biden for Griner’s release. She told “CBS Mornings” that she was initially told by the Biden administration it was best for her to stay quiet and let the State Department handle negotiations behind the scenes.

“I did that, and respectfully we’re over 140 days [of Brittney Griner’s detention] at this point,” Cherelle Griner said. “[Staying quiet] does not work. And so I will not be quiet anymore. I will find that balance of harm verse help in pushing our government to do everything that’s possible.”

Brittney Griner, too, pressed the president to intervene. She wrote a letter to President Joe Biden from a Russian prison, pleading with him to not forget about her and other American detainees.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote.

The U.S. State Department reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” after Griner’s situation gained international attention. President Biden also signed an executive order July 19 to punish people who wrongfully detain Americans abroad. The order allows the administration to apply sanctions on people believed to be involved in the wrongful detention of Americans. The order could apply to government officials or to criminals and terrorists who aren’t affiliated with any government.

There have also been on-again-off-again talk about a possible prisoner swap. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted in late July that the administration had offered Russia a prisoner swap Griner as well as another jailed American, Paul Whelan. The U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in return. Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” is one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.

No deal has been accepted by Russia thus far, and when asked about the U.S. offer, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov replied that prisoner swaps “were typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes.”

RYAN ROBERTSON: A RUSSIAN COURT HAS FOUND BRITTNEY GRINER IS GUILTY OF POSSESSION AND TRAFFICKING OF MARIJUANA INTO RUSSIA.
SHE WAS SENTENCED TO 9 YEARS IN A RUSSIAN PENAL COLONY… BUT MIGHT NOT HAVE TO ACTUALLY SPEND ALL THAT TIME AS A PRISONER.

GRINER’S BEEN IN A RUSSIAN JAIL SINCE FEBRUARY. THE U-S STATE DEPARTMENT CLASSIFIED GRINER AS “WRONGFULLY DETAINED.” SHE WAS ARRESTED AFTER SOME MARIJUANA VAPE CARTRIDGES WERE FOUND IN HER LUGGAGE.

AT THE DIRECTION OF HER LAWYERS, GRINER ADMITTED TO HAVING THE CARTRIDGES. SHE SAID SHE ACCIDENTALLY PACKED THEM IN HER BAG WHEN SHE LEFT ARIZONA—WHERE MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS LEGAL—AND TRAVELED TO RUSSIA WHERE SHE PLAYS BASKETBALL DURING THE WNBA OFFSEASON.

GRINER WAS FACING A MAXIMUM SENTENCE OF 10 YEARS. A CONVICTION IN THE TRIAL WAS ALL BUT CERTAIN. AROUND 99 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN CRIMINAL TRIALS END IN A CONVICTION.

THE COURT DID HAVE FLEXIBILITY IN SENTENCING, EVEN THOUGH IT CHOSE NOT TO REALLY EXERCISE THAT FLEXIBILITY.

DURING CLOSING ARGUMENTS IN THE TRIAL—GRINER APOLOGIZED TO HER FAMILY, HER TEAM AND SAID SHE NEVER INTENDED TO BREAK ANY RUSSIAN LAWS.

GRINER: I know that everyone keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but i hope that is far from this courtroom

ROBERTSON: NOW THAT THERE’S A CONVICTION AND SENTENCE IN THE CASE… IT’S EXPECTED A POTENTIAL PRISONER EXCHANGE CAN MOVE FORWARD.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Get ready to rate in…

lock

Watch the report to unlock rating

Your Rating

Rating closes in 4 days

Total User Rating

eye icon

Rate to reveal

Community ratings are revealed after you rate the story.

comment bubbles

WNBA star Brittney Griner learned her fate Thursday as a Russian court found her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. The judge sentenced Griner to nine years in a Russian penal colony.

Griner was arrested Feb. 17 at the Sheremetyevo International Airport after Russian authorities found THC vape cartridges in Griner’s luggage. She was returning to the country to play on a Russian team she plays with during the WNBA off season. At the direction of her attorneys, she admitted to having the cartridges. She said she accidentally packed them in her bag when she left Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.

During closing arguments, Griner apologized to her family and her team and repeated that she never intended to break the law.

Going into the trial, it was expected that Griner would likely be found guilty and could be facing 10 years in prison. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and in Russia, acquittals can be overturned.

The basketball star plays center for the Phoenix Mercury and is a two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist. Her wife, Cherelle, called Griner a “political pawn” and has lobbied President Joe Biden for Griner’s release. She told “CBS Mornings” that she was initially told by the Biden administration it was best for her to stay quiet and let the State Department handle negotiations behind the scenes.

“I did that, and respectfully we’re over 140 days [of Brittney Griner’s detention] at this point,” Cherelle Griner said. “[Staying quiet] does not work. And so I will not be quiet anymore. I will find that balance of harm verse help in pushing our government to do everything that’s possible.”

Brittney Griner, too, pressed the president to intervene. She wrote a letter to President Joe Biden from a Russian prison, pleading with him to not forget about her and other American detainees.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote.

The U.S. State Department reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” after Griner’s situation gained international attention. President Biden also signed an executive order July 19 to punish people who wrongfully detain Americans abroad. The order allows the administration to apply sanctions on people believed to be involved in the wrongful detention of Americans. The order could apply to government officials or to criminals and terrorists who aren’t affiliated with any government.

There have also been on-again-off-again talk about a possible prisoner swap. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted in late July that the administration had offered Russia a prisoner swap Griner as well as another jailed American, Paul Whelan. The U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in return. Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” is one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.

No deal has been accepted by Russia thus far, and when asked about the U.S. offer, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov replied that prisoner swaps “were typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes.”

Get ready to rate in…

Community Rating

Community ratings are revealed after you rate the story.

lock

Watch the report to unlock rating

Rate the bias

Keep us honest! Let us know if you thought this video was neutral or biased.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.