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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Briton Gets 6 Years for Drug Smuggling

The trial of 18-year-old Briton Karen Henderson, arrested at Moscow airport in February en route from Havana to Warsaw with 4.5 kilos of cocaine in her suitcase, came to a dramatic climax yesterday as a panel of three judges handed down a sentence of six years, to be served in a remote labor camp which once housed political prisoners.


"I believe in justice and I hope that Your Honor has made his decision based on all the facts," said Henderson before the judges retired to consider their verdict. "I have told you the truth ... I hope you also believe in justice."


Henderson's Glasgow-born father Hugh, mother Patricia and sister Dawn clung to each other in tears as the sentence was passed, while Henderson -- wearing a grey-flecked jacket, black leggings and a cream blouse -- remained stony-faced, betraying no emotion. She did not look at her weeping parents as she was led from the court.


"The waiting is the worst part," an ashen-faced Hugh Henderson said, dragging nervously on a cigarette after the court recessed following the closing statements.


"All I have to say is that the defense team are wonderful. They're very dedicated to Karen," said Patricia Henderson, looking puffy-eyed before the verdict. "The people from the embassy have also been wonderfully supportive."


After the sentencing the family were too shocked to speak to reporters.


"The obvious next step is an appeal," said British Consul General Ian Kydd, who accompanied the family during the trial. "The family have written permission to see Karen in prison tomorrow."


Though Henderson seemed calm, her defense lawyer Karina Moskalenko said that she has been deeply traumatized by her prison experience.


"Her body has been bitten all over by bedbugs and lice," she told the judge. "She seems brave, but she is crying inside. Can you imagine what a gentle, spoiled girl like Karen is going through in our jails?"


If her appeal fails, Henderson will be taken from Moscow's Butyrka remand prison to Mordovia, 700 kilometers east of Moscow, where she will be sent to a foreigners' prison colony once used for political prisoners.


In Mordovia she will join Suzanne Vortenbosch, 23, a Dutch citizen arrested with Henderson, who confessed to knowingly smuggling an equal amount of cocaine into Moscow from Havana, who was also sentenced to six years on July 2.


Henderson had claimed that she bought the cocaine-filled case from the nephew of a "kindly" toilet attendant at Havana airport after her own suitcase fell apart.


"Henderson's story defies basic logic," said Judge Sergei Lebedev in a hostile summary. "The route she took clearly shows that someone was waiting for her at her final destination of Warsaw."


Henderson was convicted despite evidence presented that key points of the prosecution's case were riddled with inconsistencies. Written statements from customs officials and investigators were also contradictory, said Moskalenko, and the bad translation at the trial deprived Henderson of a fair hearing.


"Over the last eight months I've got to know Karen very well," said Moskalenko. "She's the same age as my daughter, and I think and hope that she sees me as a second mother. I've become extremely fond of her."


The defense has seven days to file for appeal, but has little chance of succeeding since Judge Lebedev was careful to conduct the trial strictly by the book because of foreign press coverage, said Anatoly Bilokon, a lawyer who covered the trial for the Russian legal journal "Russian Lawyer." Henderson is expected to be transported to prison camp within the next two months.