- Brittney Griner made her first public appearance in months during her appeal hearing Tuesday.
- The WNBA superstar was on a video conference call from a cell in the Russian prison where she’s been detained.
- Griner called her incarceration “very traumatic” and asked for leniency, but her appeal was denied.
Brittney Griner made her first public appearance since August during her appeal hearing Tuesday.
The WNBA superstar appeared over a video call in a courthouse in the Moscow Region of Russia to speak with the panel of judges considering her case. Wearing a red-and-black plaid flannel shirt and peering through the bars of a cell in the detention center where she’s been held for the past eight months, Griner described her emotional struggle, apologized for her missteps, and pleaded for leniency.
“This has been a very traumatic experience, waiting for this day, waiting for the first court, and getting nine years for a crime that I was barely over the significant amount,” Griner said. “I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.
“I want to also apologize for this mistake,” she added. “As I said in my first court that, yes, I plead guilty. I did not intend to do this, but I understand the charges brought against me, and I just hope that that is also taken into account.”
But instead of showing mercy, the judges made Griner’s worst nightmares a reality; the courts upheld her initial nine-year sentence that everyone from fellow prominent sports figures to US President Joe Biden deemed “unacceptable.”
The eight-time WNBA All-Star was first arrested in February, when agents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She’s been incarcerated near the capital city ever since.
But now that her appeal has officially been denied, she’s likely to face even harsher living conditions in one of Russia’s infamous penal colonies, where abuse, disease, and neglect often run rampant. In addition to the fact that Griner will almost certainly become a target in prison as an American national — and a famous one, at that — those close to the two-time Olympic gold medalist have begun to express concerns about her declining mental fortitude.
The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, echoed similar sentiments after Tuesday’s hearing. When a reporter commented that Griner looked “really, really doomed today — more than she was previously,” the Russian attorney offered a simple explanation:
“Because she had some hopes,” Blagovolina said. “And those hopes vanished today.”
Griner’s only remaining path for an expedient return to the States would involve a prisoner exchange between the US and Russia. Though the White House has reportedly offered to swap notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the return of Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, US government officials have maintained that they have yet to receive a serious counteroffer out of Moscow.
Still, Wasserman’s Lindsay Colas, who has been Griner’s agent since she first began playing professional basketball, implored the government to act “with urgency” to bring the star home.
“The fire at Evin prison in Iran last week that almost killed American prisoner Emad Shargi, and Matthew Heath’s attempt to take his life in June while held in Venezuela, prove that time is an illusion,” Colas said in a statement provided to Insider. “We do not have time.”
“At any moment something might happen, and we must remain focused and unified in our call to return BG to her family immediately,” she added.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he and White House staffers have been “in constant contact with Russian authorities” in an effort to reach a deal to bring the basketball superstar back stateside.
“We’ve not been meeting with much positive response,” Biden added. “But we’re not stopping.”