In a decision that was widely expected, a Russian court denied the appeal of imprisoned U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner on Tuesday.
The Hail Mary appeal attempt was the last legal option the Houston native and WNBA star had at getting her nine-year prison term overturned after she was sentenced in August for being caught with one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport this past February. Griner, who was attempting to return to the U.S. after spending her WNBA offseason playing in Russia, said she inadvertently packed the oil in haste. She said it was an honest mistake.
Now, the only chance of Griner returning home anytime soon will be a negotiated deal between the U.S. and Russia.
Griner and her attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to argue Tuesday that the penalty was excessive and unprecedented for the small amount of drugs apprehended at the airport. Griner, who was not present at the hearing but participated by video call, pleaded for her release and said that it was traumatic being away from her family.
But none of that mattered as the appeal was flat rejected by the Russian court.
Griner’s Russian attorneys told the appeals court that the imprisonment has taken a toll on the basketball star. She has been in a pre-trial detention center since her arrest, but she is set to now go to a penal colony where the conditions will be much worse.
“Brittney is very mentally strong and has a champion’s character,” her attorneys said. “However, she of course has her highs and lows as she is under an increasing amount of stress and has been separated from her loved ones.”
Griner’s imprisonment has always seemed more political than about the actual crime and her legal process has been described as theater due to the frosty relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Currently, the U.S. and Russia are at odds over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. officials have called Griner’s sentence a miscarriage of justice and she is considered wrongfully detained.
President Biden and the U.S. Justice Department are believed to be working behind the scenes to get Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan released through negotiations. Russia is said to want the U.S. to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is known as the Merchant of Death, from his 25-year prison sentence in return for Griner and Whelan.
It’s unclear where the negotiations for her release stand at this point.