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A Russian court finds Brittney Griner guilty of drug possession

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Guilty - that is the verdict today delivered by a Russian judge in the drug possession trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner. The judge sentenced her to nine years in prison and fined her a million rubles. The prosecution was seeking a jail term of 9 1/2 years. Griner's lawyers argued for acquittal.

NPR's Charles Maynes is in the courthouse in Moscow. Charles - long trial in which Brittney Griner admitted carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil into Russia earlier this year. What's her reaction to the verdict?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Well, she was quite stone-faced when the verdict came down. She said she understood the charges. The judge asked her if she understood that she was able to appeal the decision, which she is. And - but fundamentally, though, we saw this day where she made her final statement to the court about an hour before the decision - about an hour and a half - excuse me - before this decision was handed down. And she said, don't take my life from me. I don't want to end up in a Russian prison. And that appears, for now anyway, to be her future for the - at least for the short term.

MARTINEZ: What did the judge say when the verdict was delivered?

MAYNES: Well, the judge really rejected all of the defense positions, saying that there were irregularities in how this - Griner was detained and also, for example, problems with the toxicology reports of these vape cartridges, essentially going with the main argument that Griner had confessed to bringing in these vape cartridges with some hashish oil - less than a gram - and that she knew well - full well the Russian law. She'd been traveling back and forth to Russia for over seven years to play in the Russian women's basketball league here. And therefore, she knew exactly what she was doing. And so she seemed to reject all of the arguments that we saw from the defense today, including this idea that Griner had done much for the country, for Russia itself, by promoting women's basketball, much as other foreigners had done in the past - to help build Russian cities, for building Russian industries.

MARTINEZ: You know, the Biden administration has said they've offered what they term a substantial proposal for Griner for release, as well as that of another American in custody in Russia. Where does that stand?

MAYNES: Well, that's the thing. From the beginning, we've known that, you know, most criminal cases in Russia - in fact, 99% of them - end in a conviction. So there's been this sense all along that this may go to some sort of political process. And Griner addressed that. She said she hoped that politics wouldn't play a role in the decision, but it seems like it will. You know, the White House has floated this idea of a possible prisoner swap involving Griner and perhaps American - former Marine Paul Whelan, who's also in jail here in Moscow on espionage charges. Russia is looking for possibly two - or one or two Russian nationals in American jails. There's some names that get floated around, but we don't know at this point. Russia said, at least initially, that first of all, the trial had to complete itself - this Griner trial - before any real swapping could begin.

MARTINEZ: You mentioned that the judge gave Griner the option of appealing and that she is. So what happens now? What are some timetables?

MAYNES: Well, we don't really have a timetable yet. The - in fact, as I'm talking to you, I'm watching some of the lawyers step out of the courtroom. So we might get a better sense of that soon. But certainly, you'd have to imagine that she's eager to appeal. Or, you know, we might see something move forward on the political process here. So, again, as we have - we've always had the one case, which is a legal question about Brittney Griner - guilty or not - for bringing in these vape cartridges into Russia. And then we've also had the political process of Russia and the United States kind of going back and forth over a possible prisoner swap. And that seems to be where it's headed.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.