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The trial outcome will now put the spotlight on a reported prisoner exchange.
Today, after spending nearly six months in the custody of the Russian government, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty of drug smuggling and possession charges. The outcome is the latest development after the WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after officials said they discovered vape canisters containing cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage.
During her sentencing, Griner directly appealed to the judge and pleaded for leniency. “I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’” she said. “But I hope that is far from this courtroom.”
The sentencing was widely expected and could be the next step in negotiations for a potential prisoner swap. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Friday that he had urged Russia to accept a proposal that would bring home Griner, as well as Paul Whelan, who in 2020, was arrested on espionage charges. It’s been reported that in exchange for Griner and Whelan, the Biden administration is offering to release convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
In a statement on Thursday, President Joe Biden slammed Griner’s sentencing as “unacceptable.” “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Brittney Griner’s attorneys in Russia say she is “not doing fine” today and has passed through her lawyers a message for her family, which she wants to remain private. They hope that she’ll be able to talk to her family next week
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) August 4, 2022