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Russian Court Finds Brittney Griner Guilty in Drug Trial

Russian courts found Brittney Griner, American basketball player, guilty of drug offenses and sentenced her for nine years. This is the conclusion of a lengthy trial that has heightened tensions between Moscow (Russia) and Washington.

Griner was detained in February and appeared earlier to make an appeal for leniency. Her attorneys as well as the prosecution gave closing arguments.

Griner was sentenced to nine and a half years by the Russian prosecutor.

The guilty verdict, which was handed down around 11 a.m. on the East Coast in the United States, was widely expected and puts Griner’s fate “subject to diplomatic bargaining between Russia and the United States,” as The New York TimesIt is important to do so.

Russian and U.S. officials discussed a potential prisoner trade in recent days. Griner and Viktor Bout are currently being held at 25 years each in American prisons.

Biden’s administration presented Russia with a proposal last week that included Bout and Griner being released, as well as Paul Whelan (an American detained in Russia for espionage since 2018).

Bloomberg reported earlier in the week that Russia refused to accept that deal and preferred an agreement that would allow for two Russian prisoner release.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that “officials in Moscow have said that a verdict in her trial was a necessary precondition for a possible exchange” for Griner.

Griner, a star for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was traveling back to Russia on February 17 to complete her season for UMMC Ekaterinburg––for whom she plays during the WNBA’s offseason––when authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage. Her drug-related charges were brought up to a 10 year sentence.

Her detention, which came mere days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has become another tension in the geopolitical strife between Moscow and the west. In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified as “wrongfully detained.”

Griner, who pleaded guilty last month to the charges, insisted it wasn’t her intent to breach the law. Griner appealed to the court for leniency on Thursday.

“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, as quoted by the Associated Press, which noted that her voice was “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 also spoke highly of her experiences playing for Ekaterinburg starting in 2014.

“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, according to the Associated Press. “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.”

President Joe Biden has faced growing pressure to secure Griner’s release.

Last month, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, after Griner sent the president a handwritten letter.

“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,” Griner said in the letter to Biden.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner continued. “Please do all you can to bring us home. You were my first vote in 2020. I trust in you. You can do so many things for me that I don’t know how to. It’s hard to imagine my life without her! I miss my family! My teammates are my family! It hurts to think of how much they’re suffering right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”