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Brittney Griner's appeal trial in Russia set for Oct. 25

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A Russian court has scheduled WNBA star Brittney Griner's appeal date for October 25 following her nine-year sentence for drug possession. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE
A Russian court has scheduled WNBA star Brittney Griner's appeal date for October 25 following her nine-year sentence for drug possession. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE

Oct. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner's appeal, against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession in Russia, has been scheduled for Oct. 25.

The Moscow region court announced the appeal date Monday, following the WNBA star's conviction in August. Her attorneys filed a right to an appeal days after she was found guilty.

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Griner, 31, has been held in a Russian jail for almost eight months since her arrest at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February for carrying two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner had been in Russia to play for a Moscow basketball team during the WNBA off-season.

The Phoenix Mercury all-star center and two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty to the drug charges in July in a bid for leniency from the court. In Russia, criminal trials play out in court even if a defendant pleads guilty. Despite Griner having less than 2 grams of cannabis oil in her bags, the Russian court ruled that she intentionally tried to smuggle it into the country.

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Griner's nine-year sentence drew condemnation from her lawyers who called it "excessive" and accused the Russian court of "completely ignoring all of the evidence." While cannabis is illegal in Russia, her attorneys argued Griner had a valid medical prescription for pain management and did not intentionally pack the cartridges.

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"I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn't end my life here," Griner said in a statement to the court in August before her verdict was read.

Griner's appeal is considered by experts a necessary step toward a possible prisoner exchange between the Russian and U.S. governments. There have been reports that Griner and possibly Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges, could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the "merchant of death," who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that "a substantial offer had been put on the table" for Griner's release -- and that he'd also pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to release Whelan.

Last month, President Joe Biden met separately with the families of Griner and Whelan at the White House where Biden reiterated "his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely."

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