WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal date has been set for a Moscow region court on October 25.
The Phoenix Mercury all-star has been held in a Russian prison since February, admitting to committing the crime of possession of vape canisters that contained cannabis oil. Griner maintains that she brought the items into Russia accidentally.
Griner’s arrest came four days before Russia invaded Ukraine. She has now been held for seven months. The 6-foot, 9-inch center was sentenced to nine years in August, just shy of the ten-year maximum sentence.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said ahead of her verdict. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
President Joe Biden called the sentence unacceptable, offering his statement that demanded Griner’s immediate release.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” he said in a statement.
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” he added.
Griner had been in Russia during the WNBA off-season, where she played for UMMC Ekaterinburg before her arrest. The team competes in the Russian Premier League and FIBA Europe’s EuroLeague.
WNBA players have commonly joined international teams to earn more income. The American professional basketball league also competes during the summer months, offering time to participate in other leagues throughout the rest of the year.
The Mercury star pleaded guilty to the offense but argued the sentencing was excessive.
Maria Blagovolina, a lawyer for Griner, argued that the athlete brought the cartridges to Russia by mistake and only used cannabis as medicine while in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.
The Biden administration had previously attempted a prisoner swap involving “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and American Paul Whelan. The attempts have so far proven unsuccessful.
“They have not responded to our offer. We have made a serious offer to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home. The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn’t mean that — that we’re not still in negotiations and we’re not still trying,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last month.
The Biden administration previously conducted a prisoner exchange in April with Russia, receiving Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Last month, Biden met with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, along with the sister of Paul Whelan. The meeting was closed to the media.