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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voronezh Court Rules to Cut Tobin's Sentence to One Year

A Voronezh court slashed the sentence of U.S. Fulbright scholar John Tobin, who was convicted on drug charges, from 37 months to a year Thursday, amid sustained protests by his family and U.S. lawmakers about his imprisonment.

Tobin, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, was convicted April 27 in Voronezh on charges of charges of illegally obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana. He has insisted on his innocence.

The Voronezh court confirmed the local court's conviction for obtaining and possessing drugs, but overturned the conviction for distribution, Tobin's lawyer Maxim Bayev said. Tobin has already served four months of the one-year sentence.

NTV television showed footage of a pale but smiling Tobin shaking hands with his lawyer through the bars of the courtroom cage.

The decision to slash the sentence was unusual in Russia, where the overwhelming majority of trials end in conviction and appeals are often fruitless.

"A higher court rarely overturns or changes anything," said Karina Moskalenko, a prominent Moscow human rights lawyer.

It was unclear whether the court was influenced by the flurry of protest activity by Tobin supporters, including a meeting planned Thursday between U.S. congressional Representative James Maloney and the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Tobin's father welcomed the reduced sentence.

"We're absolutely thrilled with it," John Tobin Sr. said from Ridgefield. "Everybody's work over 120-something days has paid off."

Bayev said he would advise his client against seeking a pardon, as he was certain Tobin would be freed under an amnesty that he said the government would announce for Russian Independence Day on June 12.

However, the deputy head of the prison system, Oleg Filimonov, said he did not expect parliament to pass the amnesty in time for the holiday.