Brittney Griner’s appeal trial in Russia is scheduled for October 25

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A Russian court has set WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal date for October 25 after her nine-year sentence for drug possession. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE

October 3 (UPI) — American basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession in Russia is scheduled for October 25.

The Moscow region court announced the call date Monday, following the WNBA star’s sentencing in August. Her lawyers filed a right of appeal days after she was found guilty.

Griner, 31, has been held in a Russian prison for nearly eight months since her arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February for carrying two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner was in Russia to play for a Moscow basketball team during the WNBA offseason.

The Phoenix Mercury star center and two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges in July in a court application for clemency. In Russia, criminal trials take place in court even if an accused pleads guilty. Although Griner had less than 2 grams of cannabis oil in her bags, the Russian court ruled that she intentionally tried to smuggle it into the country.

Griner’s nine-year sentence was condemned by his lawyers who called it “excessive” and accused the Russian court of “completely ignoring all the evidence”. While cannabis is illegal in Russia, his lawyers argued that Griner had a valid medical prescription for pain management and did not intentionally package the cartridges.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope in your ruling it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said in a statement to the court in August before his verdict was read.

Griner’s appeal is seen by experts as a necessary step towards a possible prisoner swap between the Russian and US governments. There are reports that Griner and possibly Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the ‘Dealer of Death’, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence. in the USA. states.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that “a substantial offer had been put on the table” for Griner’s release – and that he had also pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to free Whelan.

Last month, the President Joe Biden met separately with Griner and Whelan’s families at the White House where Biden reiterated “his continued commitment to work through every avenue available to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”

Elna M. Lemons