New York Post

GRINER HIT WITH 9 YEARS PRISON

WNBA star stoic but ‘surprised’ at severe sentence

- By SNEJANA FARBEROV and EVAN SIMKO-BEDNARSKI

WNBA star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday in Russia of cannabis possession and sentenced to nine years in prison — despite her insistence that she “made an honest mistake” and her tearful pleas for mercy.

Standing in a cage reserved for defendants at the Khimki court outside Moscow, Griner, 31, remained stone-faced upon hearing the verdict.

As part of the punishment phase, Griner also will be required to pay a $16,300 fine. Asked if she understood the sentence, Griner replied in English: “Yes, I understand, your honor.”

Later, as she was being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, Griner told a gaggle of reporters: “I love my family.”

Speaking outside of the courthouse, Griner’s Russian legal team said they have not been contacted about efforts to facilitate a prisoner exchange.

“Maybe we’ll hear something,” attorney Maria Blagovolin­a said. “I don’t know. It has not been discussed with us.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that a US offer — widely suspected to be a swap of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan — was still on the table.

“We’re still open to having our proposal seriously and positively considered,” Kirby said Thursday. “We want them to take the offer that’s on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one and it’ll help to bring Paul and Brittney home.”

Kirby refused to comment on the details, but said that negotiatio­ns were continuing.

“Conversati­ons are ongoing on multiple levels,” he said.

Plan to appeal

Griner’s lawyer said that her client’s mood following the verdict was “bad” and she was feeling “dishearten­ed.” She said they were “very surprised” by the verdict and planned to appeal the case.

“We certainly believe this sentencing does not match the act that was committed,” Blagovolin­a said. “Moreover, it goes completely against legal precedent related to

this statute, taking into considerat­ion the quantity [of cannabis] and Griner’s admission of guilt.”

She added: “We are definitely going to appeal. We certainly disagree, are surprised and disappoint­ed with the Khimki court’s ruling today.”

Earlier at Thursday’s hearing, Griner, with her voice quivering, acknowledg­ed her “mistake” and pleaded for leniency.

“I want the court to understand that this was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back to my team,” Griner said, referring to her packing vape cartridges in her luggage on her way to Russia in February.

‘An honest mistake’

“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” she continued. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”

Griner, who pleaded guilty to the charges, said she did not intend to break Russian law and that her parents had taught her to take ownership of her errors.

In the course of her trial, Griner testified that she inadverten­tly placed cannabis cartridges into her bag while “stress-packing” for her trip to Russia, where she was contracted to play basketball for a local team during WNBA’s off-season.

Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center have presented character witnesses from the Russian team and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment.

A prosecutor, Nikolai Vlasenko, argued that Griner packed the cannabis oil deliberate­ly.

Griner’s lawyer did not rule out the possibilit­y of petitionin­g for clemency if the athlete’s appeal attempt fails, saying: “We’ll do everything possible to get her freed.”

The guilty verdict and year sentence were met with universal condemnati­on in American diplomatic and government circles.

Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, delivered a statement outside the Khimki courthouse, in which she called the sentencing “a miscarriag­e of justice.”

“The US Department of State has determined that Ms. Griner was wrongly detained,” Rood said. “Nothing in today’s decision changes that determinat­ion.”

She added that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Biden and the entire American government “remain committed to bringing Ms. Griner home safely.”

 ?? ?? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT:
Brittney Griner is escorted to hear her verdict (far right) Thursday in Khimki, outside Moscow. The WNBA player was sentenced to nine years in prison after being caught with a small amount of hash oil in her luggage (above and right).
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Brittney Griner is escorted to hear her verdict (far right) Thursday in Khimki, outside Moscow. The WNBA player was sentenced to nine years in prison after being caught with a small amount of hash oil in her luggage (above and right).
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