Russian authorities have held WNBA and Olympic star Brittney Griner since February after landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on her way back to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian basketball team she’s won two championships with.
Griner was accused of having vape canisters with trace amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage. Since her arrest and detention, the Biden Administration has deemed her as “wrongfully detained” and offered a prisoner swap to free her and another American detainee, Paul Whelan, who was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in 2020.
The US has offered arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US but has since said the Russian’s counteroffer was unreasonable. Though the Griner and Whelan families have met with President Biden, the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine has decimated US – Russian relations and made Griner and Whelan’s situations that much more desperate.
On Aug. 4, the embattled 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury star pled guilty to the charges, saying that she packed in haste and had no intentions of breaking Russian laws. She said it was an “honest mistake.”
Despite the guilty plea, which has been said to be an incentive for a lesser sentence from Russian judges, Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison colony. Former US Marine Trevor Reed, who spent two years in forced labor camps in Russia after being convicted of fighting with Russian police while intoxicated in 2020, described the conditions as horrific in several interviews.
Now Griner will have the chance to appeal her sentence. Per The New York Times, a Russian court announced that Griner will have a hearing on her appeal on Oct. 25. Griner’s lawyers are expected to argue that the sentence is excessive when others convicted for similar crimes have either received shorter sentences or parole.
Former WNBA star and 2-time NCAA champion coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Lady Gamecocks tweeted today in support of Griner.
The news came a week after Kim Mulkey, Griner’s former coach at Baylor, where she won two championships, refused to comment on Griner’s detention. Now at LSU, Mulkey cut off a reporter who mentioned she’d not commented on Griner’s situation.
“And you won’t,” Mulkey said, leading to online clapbacks from several of her former players. In her 2014 memoir, “In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court,” Griner alleges that Mulkey asked her to hide her sexuality while playing for the team.
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