Moscow Jails U.S. Pastor For Hunting Ammo

Phillip Miles is seen behind bars in a Moscow court on Monday, April 21, 2008. Phillip Miles, from South Carolina, has been in custody since his arrest on Feb. 3. He was arrested several days after customs agents at a Moscow airport found a box of rifle shells in his luggage.
AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel
A Moscow court on Monday sentenced a U.S. pastor to more than three years in prison for smuggling hunting ammunition into Russia.

Phillip Miles, from Conway, S.C., has been in custody since his arrest on Feb. 3. He was arrested several days after customs agents at a Moscow airport found a box of 20 rifle shells in his luggage.

The court sentenced him to serve three years and two months in prison, with the sentence calculated from his detention date.

Miles has said he brought the .300 caliber cartridges for a friend who had recently bought a Winchester rifle. He said he did not know bringing such ammunition into Russia was illegal.

Judge Olga Drozdova accepted in her 20-minute summation that Miles had brought the ammunition for a friend, "as they are both inveterate hunters."

The cartridges were not initially found as he flew into Moscow. They were detected a day later as airport security put his luggage through an X-ray machine while he was on his way to check in for a flight to Perm, a city in Siberia.

Miles was dressed in a gray jacket and clerical collar for his sentencing.

"I'm very disappointed. It's a strange sentence for one box of hunting bullets," he said as court bailiffs led him in handcuffs from the courtroom cage, where defendants in Russian criminal courts are held during trial.

His lawyer said the sentence was surprisingly severe.

"I hoped he would only be found guilty of the illegal possession of ammunition," Vladimir Ryakhovsky said.

He said the conviction for smuggling was unfounded as his client had acted without any intent to break the law.

An appeal will be filed within 10 days, he said.

Miles seemed relaxed throughout the judge's summation.

His interpreter struggled to keep up with the judge's delivery and stopped at various points throughout the sentencing. At one point, Miles tapped the interpreter's elbow to remind her to resume.

Miles has admitted bringing in the shells, but said he did not bother to check if Russian laws differed from U.S. laws.

But Drozdova said the court could not condone ignorance of Russian customs regulations and noted Miles had visited the country more than 10 times.

She also stressed repeatedly that information on baggage limitations was available in the airport in both English and Russian.

Ryakhovsky said, however, that leaflets in the airport contained no specific references to a prohibition on taking cartridges onto flights.

"The judge's finding on that front was dishonest," he said.

Miles will remain in a Moscow jail until the appeal.