Brittney Griner’s legal team has filed an appeal against the Russian court decision that sentenced her to nine years in prison, her lawyer Maria Blagovolina told CNBC on Monday. Griner was arrested for carrying a singular vape cartridge containing less than a gram of hash oil.
After six months in pre-trial detention, the Phoenix Mercury star player was found guilty of drug possession on August 4. Griner pled guilty in early July, but also told the court that “there was no intent,” that the vape cartridge only made its way into her luggage by accident, and that she “didn’t want to break the law.”
The appeal comes shortly after it was reported that the U.S. is attempting to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Russian government to secure Griner’s release. President Biden has reportedly offered to free the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been held in Russia since 2020 on “espionage” charges. Both have been deemed wrongly imprisoned by the U.S. State Department.
While the Russian government previously dismissed talks of such a deal as “unequal,” Russian officials seemed to indicate that negotiations could result in a favorable outcome in comments reported by The Daily Beast on Saturday. A Russian spokesperson told the Russian state news service Tass that the talks “should bear fruit, if of course, Washington strictly follows it without slipping into propaganda.”
The Russian government had at one time reportedly requested to add Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of murdering a former Chechen fighter in December, to the exchange deal, despite the fact that Krasikov is currently in German custody. However, The Daily Beast reported that Russia may now be open to a new deal not involving Krasikov.
Until then, though, Griner remains in Russian captivity. On July 4, the Olympian wrote a letter by hand addressed to President Joe Biden, in which she said she was “terrified” that she might be in Russian prison forever.
“It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” she wrote at the time. “I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Shortly after that, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted on Instagram about a call that she had had with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond,” Cherelle wrote. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”
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