A Russian court has set Monday, October 25, as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Griner, an eight-time All-Star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vaporizer canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport. Sheremetyevo of Moscow.
The Moscow region court said it will hear his appeal.
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Griner admitted that he had the cans in his luggage, but testified that he had inadvertently packed them in a hurry and had no criminal intent. His defense team submitted written statements that he had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.
His arrest in February came at a time of heightened tension between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the best players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she played during the American league offseason.
The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum, and Griner’s attorneys argued after conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them receiving probation.
Prior to her conviction, the US State Department declared that Griner was “wrongfully detained,” a charge Russia has strongly denied.
Reflecting mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of disclosing publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal.” to bring Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
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Blinken did not elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington has offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the US who once won the nickname “merchant of death”.
The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.
Russian diplomats have refused to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the matter in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.
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US President Joe Biden met last month with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, as well as the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat separately with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan.
The White House said after the meetings that the president emphasized to the families his “continued commitment to work through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”
The Biden administration carried out a prisoner swap in April: Moscow released Navy veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the United States releasing a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted of a drug conspiracy.