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WNBA star Brittney Griner is ‘pessimistic’ as Russian court hears her appeal

A Russian appeals court is hearing the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced in August to nine years in prison in what the U.S. has called a wrongful detention.

Griner, 32, was attending the hearing in the Moscow Regional Court early Tuesday via video conference from the detention center where she is being held. The athlete is expected to be moved to a penal colony if her appeal is denied.

Griner “is quite pessimistic about the outcome” of the appeal, one of her attorneys, Maria Blagovolina, said Monday.

“She hopes there will be some reduction but not that the verdict will be overruled,” Blagovolina said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was sentenced in August to nine years in prison on drug charges.

She was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner pleaded guilty in July but said that it was an accident, that she had brought them to Russia unintentionally and that she had packed hurriedly for a flight. Medical cannabis, which is illegal in Russia, is legal in most of the U.S.

U.S. officials say Griner is being wrongfully detained. State Department spokesman Ned Price called the judicial proceedings “largely shambolic” Monday.

“Wrongful detainees are by definition wrongfully held. They are used as political pawns, as leverage,” Price said. “It is our goal to see them home as soon as we can.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has said Brittney Griner is being held hostage.

The U.S. has proposed a prisoner exchange with Russia for the release of Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, a corporate executive who has been detained there since 2018, two sources familiar with the matter said. The deal would include the U.S.’s releasing imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the sources have said.

When she was detained, Griner had been in Russia to play for a Russian Premier League women’s team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, as she had done since 2014.

Lawyers for Griner filed an appeal in August, after she was sentenced.

In April, Russia released American Trevor Reed in exchange for the U.S.’s releasing Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Reed, a former Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia in 2020 after authorities there said he assaulted a Russian police officer after a night of drinking. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence.

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