USA Women’s National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands inside a a cage of the defendants before a hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, on August 4, 2022.
Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A Russian court will hear WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal on Tuesday after the American athlete was convicted of drug charges earlier this year.
Griner’s lawyers told NBC News ahead of the hearing that the two-time Olympic gold medalist was “quite pessimistic” about the judge’s overturning of the court’s initial verdict.
“She’s hoping there will be a reduction in her sentence,” Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s attorney, told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, adding that the 32-year-old will appear in court via video conference.
Griner, who plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February after Russian authorities found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport. from Moscow.
His attorneys said Griner only used cannabis for medical purposes and unwittingly packed the cannabis canisters in his suitcase because the professional athlete was in a hurry.
Under Russian law, the charge carried a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. In August, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine years. She was also ordered to pay 1 million rubles, or about $16,301.
The court’s decision came as the Biden administration worked to secure his release.
A week before the verdict, the Biden administration confirmed it had made an offer to the Russian government for the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
“I’m terrified of being here forever”
American WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands in the defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Khimki court outside Moscow on July 26, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images
Days before pleading guilty last month, Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking for his direct help in his case.
“I’m sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic shirt or any achievement, I’m terrified to be here. forever,” the professional athlete wrote in July. 5 letter.
“I realize you have so much to do, but please don’t forget me and…the other American inmates. Please do whatever you can to get us home” , wrote Griner.
After receiving the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Biden also wrote a response to Griner that US diplomats hand-delivered to Moscow.
Biden reassured his wife that he was working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to a reading of the White House appeal. He also told Cherelle Griner that he is working to free Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 for acting as a spy for the United States. At the time of his arrest, Whelan was traveling to Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother, David Whelan.
Griner’s arrest and subsequent detention came as the West issued repeated warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw the hundreds of thousands of troops deployed along the Ukrainian border. Following Russia’s large-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbor, the United States and its allies unleashed a series of punitive sanctions against Moscow and amassed a multibillion-dollar war chest for Kyiv.
Two months into the war, Russia agreed to free former US Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange.
Reed was charged with assaulting a Russian police officer and detained by authorities there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence, and the US government has described him as wrongfully imprisoned.
For Reed’s release, Biden agreed to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
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