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Brittney Griner loses appeal of nine-year Russian prison sentence


(NEW YORK) — UPDATE — Brittney Griner has lost her appeal after a Russian court upheld her drug conviction and nine-year prison sentence. The Phoenix Mercury star has been jailed since February when screeners at a Moscow airport found vape cartridges containing hashish in her luggage. Griner said she didn’t realize it was there and she had no intention to distribute drugs while playing in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season. She spoke earlier today during an appeal hearing as her lawyer argued that the expert who analyzed the cartridges was unqualified and that procedural violations were committed during the investigation. Her defense also asked the court to take into account her character and contributions to Russian sport, while pointing out Griner’s sentence is extreme. Her sentence could now be eight years taking into account credit for time served.

A Russian court is set to hold a hearing in the case of Brittney Griner on Tuesday after the WNBA star appealed her nine-year prison sentence.

As the U.S. works to secure the basketball star’s freedom, Griner’s attorney told ABC News earlier this month that the basketball star is worried that she may not be released.

“Her being afraid of not being released is mostly connected to the negotiations, which we are not aware of at all,” Griner’s attorney Alexandr Boikov told ABC News on Oct. 13.

After being detained in Russia for more than five months, Griner was found guilty on drug charges in a Moscow-area court on Aug. 4 and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Her attorneys filed an appeal on Aug. 15 and a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25.

“She is not very much hopeful for the appeal because the first court decision — the verdict showed that the case is totally unjust even by present Russian standards, and we are not hoping for a big release, but of course we hope for the best,” Boikov told ABC News.

According to Boikov, decisions on appeals are usually made during one hearing, but other hearings could be scheduled and he expects a decision by the end of October.

Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki as she returned to Russia to play during the WNBA’s off-season after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in July, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage mistakenly and that she had no “intention” of breaking Russian law.

The WNBA star turned 32 behind bars in Russia on Oct. 18, but she was able to spend a few hours with her lawyers who relayed birthday messages to her, as well as speak on the phone with U.S. officials.

“Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me,” Griner said through a message shared by her attorneys.

The U.S. government classified Griner’s case on May 3 as “wrongfully detained,” meaning the U.S. will more aggressively work to negotiate her release even as the legal case against her plays out, the State Department has said.

Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained, and some officials have expressed concern that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing war.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told ABC News earlier this month that securing the release of Griner and Paul Whelan — an American detained in Russia since 2019 — remains “a priority for this administration.”

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