WNBA star Brittney Griner Will Spend at Least 8 Years in a Prison Cell After a Russian Court Denies Her Appeal

WNBA star Brittney Griner Will Spend at Least 8 Years in a Prison Cell After a Russian Court Denies Her Appeal

The nine-year prison term for WNBA star Brittney Griner was affirmed by a Russian court on Tuesday; the American athlete will now be transported to a correctional colony.

The original sentence, which the state prosecutor deemed “reasonable,” was maintained by the court close to Moscow.

Griner still has eight years or so left on her sentence, but she may file another appeal with Russia’s highest court of appeals, the court of cassation. It’s unclear if her attorneys will file a new appeal.

“We think we should use all legal tools available but that is her decision to take,” Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s lawyer, told reporters outside of the court. Blagovolina added that the two-time Olympic gold medalist was disappointed to hear the decision from the three-judge panel.

“She had some hope but that vanished today,” Blagovolina said.

Griner was detained in February after Russian police discovered vape canisters carrying cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Griner plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason.

Her attorneys claimed that Griner solely consumes cannabis for medical purposes and that the professional athlete accidentally packed the cannabis canisters in her suitcase because she was rushing.

Under Russian law, the charge carried a penalty 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, approximately $16,301.

Griner’s lawyers added that they will see the 32-year-old athlete, who appeared in court via video conference, next week. Blagovolina said that Griner last spoke to her family by telephone one week ago.

The White House called for Griner’s immediate release following Tuesday’s “sham judicial proceeding.”

“The president has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his administration has done successfully from countries around the world,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan wrote in a statement.

Sullivan added that the Biden administration remains in regular touch with the families of wrongfully detained U.S. citizens.

The court’s guilty verdict came as the Biden administration scrambled to secure her release.

A week before the verdict, the Biden administration confirmed it made an offer to the Russian government for the release of Griner and the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking for his direct help with her case.

“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in a July 5 letter.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and … other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home,” Griner wrote.

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 U.S. diplomats hand-delivered in Moscow.

Biden reassured her wife that he is working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to a White House readout of the call. He also told Cherelle Griner that he is working to release Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.

Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States. At the time he was arrested, Whelan was visiting 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 draw down the hundreds of thousands of troops staged along Ukraine’s border. In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor, the U.S. and its allies unleashed a slew of punishing sanctions on Moscow and built up a multibillion-dollar war chest for Kyiv.

Two months into the war, Russia agreed to release former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange.

Reed was accused of 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 U.S. government described him as unjustly 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 U.S.