Brittney Griner is facing a 9-year sentence in a Russian jail following conviction. Here’s what could come next for the WNBA star
Now, Griner has returned to the detention center where she was held during her weeks-long trial as her lawyers vow to appeal the sentence and the Biden administration attempts to negotiate for her release.
Her lawyers had hoped that Griner’s guilty plea and statements of remorse would result in a more lenient sentence. She faced 10 years for the charges and prosecutors requested she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail. In addition to her nine-year sentence, Griner must pay a fine of 1 million rubles, which is roughly $16,400.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said in court prior to the verdict. “I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
Here’s what comes next for Griner as she awaits her lawyers’ appeal and the US continues to negotiate for her release.
Lawyers will appeal ‘unreasonable’ verdict
Griner’s legal team will file an appeal to the court’s decision, which they must do within 10 days of the verdict, according to her lawyers, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, who is a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” they said in a statement.
They called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable” and insisted in the statement that the decision “contradicts the existing legal practice” in Russia.
Blagovolina told reporters that the average time in jail for this type of crime is five years, adding that almost a third of those convicted get parole.
During the trial, the lawyers argued that Griner’s detention was handled improperly. Griner testified that she was made to sign documents that she did not fully understand and was not given adequate translations of the Russian-language paperwork.
A defense expert also tested that the examination of the vape cartridges containing the cannabis oil did not comply with Russian law.
US has proposed prisoner swap for Griner’s return
After Griner’s sentence, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said that it was “up to the Russian side” on whether the conviction will open the door for prisoner-swap negotiations.
Kirby reiterated Thursday that the US’s position remains that it wants Russia to “take the deal on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’ll help bring Paul (Whelan) and Brittney home.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists at a news conference Friday that officials “are ready to discuss” the prisoners being held by both countries, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
“There is a specified channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in effect,” Lavrov said, according to RIA Novosti.
Family and supporters continue to fight for her return
The swap proposal follows months of pressure from Griner’s family and members of the basketball community.
Griner has also had the steady support of her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, as well as other members of the basketball community.
Before the start of a game Thursday night between the Mercury and Connecticut Sun, members of both teams linked arms in the center of the court and held a 42-second moment of silence for Griner, who wears 42 on her jersey. After it ended, people in the crowd started chanting, “Bring her home! Bring her home!”
CNN’s Allie Malloy, Chris Liakos, Natasha Bertrand, Frederik Pleitgen, Eric Levenson, Dakin Andone, Travis Caldwell, Jill Martin, Betsy Klein, Kate Sullivan and MJ Lee contributed to this report.