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The South Carolina and Team USA basketball coach discussed the sentencing of Griner and what she hopes happens next.
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WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and fined by a Russian court on Thursday on charges of smuggling drugs with criminal intent. The Mercury star was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February and accused of having hashish oil in her luggage.
After her sentencing, South Carolina and USA Basketball coach Dawn Staley discussed Griner’s verdict and what should happen next.
Brittney Griner testifies in Russian court as US works to secure her release
Brittney Griner testified on Wednesday in a Russian court after the WNBA star's legal team requested more time for her to prepare. 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 offseason after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and also has a right to an appeal.
“I’ve been following Brittney’s case for quite some time and I’ve been in contact with her representatives,” Staley told USA TODAY.
“We knew it was going to happen that way, so I wasn’t heartbroken … I do believe people are working on her behalf to bring her home. This was a step that was necessary in order for them to begin the discussions of a prisoner swap. I truly believe we need to do whatever is necessary to bring our American citizens home. ... We must exhaust every option to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home.”
Staley, the longtime Gamecocks coach, coached Griner on the U.S. women’s basketball team during the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. The U.S. won gold at both events.
The United States government has been in negotiations with Russia for a potential prisoner swap that would bring Griner and American Paul Whelan home, possibly in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Whelan, a security executive, was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but maintains his innocence.
Russia's Lavrov says he will discuss US prisoner swap offer
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that he's open to a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving American basketball star Brittney Griner. Blinken said Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
It is anticipated that the amount of time that Griner will spend in the Russian penal colony will depend on how long it takes for the U.S. and Russia to agree to a deal to bring Griner and Whelan home. The Associated Press reported Friday the Kremlin said it’s open to talking about a possible prisoner exchange involving Griner.
More Brittany Griner Coverage:
- Mercury Focus on the Big Picture Amid Griner’s Conviction in Russia
- Mercury Hold 42-Second Moment of Silence for Brittney Griner
- Mercury ‘Faithful’ U.S. Gov Will Help End Griner’s Detention
- Brittney Griner Lost Long Before Her Conviction
Inside the Russian Penal Colony Where Brittney Griner Will Serve Her 9-Year Prison Sentence .
"I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress," Ivan Melnikov, a human rights activist, tells PEOPLEAfter nearly six months in Russian custody, Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison and will begin her stay in a Russian penal colony.