Brittney Griner could 'hardly talk' after being handed 9 years in Russian prison, and was expecting half that, lawyer says
- The WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison on Thursday.
- She had been detained since February and accused of smuggling drugs into Russia.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was "devastated" after being given a nine-year prison sentence in Russia, her lawyers said.
In an interview after a Moscow judge delivered her sentence, an attorney on Griner's legal team, Maria Blagovolina, said they had expected a sentence only half as long.
Griner, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained in Russia in late February, when customs officials at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Her punishment was almost the maximum for the charge of drug smuggling, which can carry up to ten years.
"She is very upset, very stressed," Maria Blagovolina, one of Griner's lawyers, told reporters after the hearing. "She can hardly talk. It's a difficult time for her."
Blagovolina similarly told People: "She's devastated. She is very upset and she's honestly quite shocked, so she needs to digest what happened today."
Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, another one of Griner's lawyers, told People that Griner's nine-year sentence was nearly double what they expected. They plan to appeal, Bloomberg and DailyMail.com reported.
Griner changed her plea to guilty in July, more than four months after her arrest, in an apparent move to seek leniency which largely did not come.
She had been steeling herself, Blagovolina said, telling reporters that Griner had referred to the day of her sentencing as "doomsday." Russian courts have a 99% conviction rate, and experts told Insider's Meredith Cash before Griner's hearings that hers most likely already had a "predetermined" outcome.
President Joe Biden called Griner's sentence "unacceptable." Last week his administration proposed a prisoner swap for her, offering Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer, for Griner and the former US marine Paul Whelan.
The White House said the Kremlin responded with a counteroffer that included another convict, describing it as "a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward."
A US official told People on Thursday they were "still waiting" for Russia to respond to the original offer, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Russia was "ready to discuss" the proposal but only through private diplomatic channels.
Griner's lawyers told People that she had not been able to speak to any friends or family, including her wife Cherelle, since the sentencing, but that she had "permission" to do so and hoped for a call next week.
Video from ESPN showed Griner's team, the Phoenix Mercury, and their opponents the Connecticut Sun holding a 42 seconds of silence for Griner – a nod to her shirt number — during their game on Thursday.
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