Brittney Griner Found Guilty of Drug Possession and Smuggling, Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison

By
This video is unavailable because we were unable to load a message from our sponsors.

If you are using ad-blocking software, please disable it and reload the page.

American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison and given a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,500) by a Russian court on Thursday, after she was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. Prosecutors had asked that she receive 9 1/2 years in prison.

The trial concluded nearly six months after Griner's arrest at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of U.S.-Russia diplomacy, with Washington proposing a prisoner exchange. Griner's legal team said she would appeal.

"I never meant to hurt anybody to put in jeopardy the Russian population or violate any Russian laws. I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling, that it doesn't end my life here," Griner told the court earlier Thursday, apologizing to her family, her teammates, her fans, and the Russian people.

"I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom... I hope you take into account all the documents, all the character lists that everybody has sent in on my behalf... This is my second home, and all I wanted to do was just win championships and make them proud."

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," President Joe Biden said in response to the verdict. "It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist have pursued strategies to bolster Griner's contention that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage due to hasty packing. They have presented character witnesses from the Russian team that she plays for in the WNBA off-season and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment.

A lawyer on Griner's defense team, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner brought the cartridges with her to Russia inadvertently and only used cannabis as medicine and only while in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal. A prosecutor, Nikolai Vlasenko, argued that Griner packed the cannabis oil deliberately.

With the verdict and sentence now official, attention will turn to the high-stakes possibility of a prisoner swap.

Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as "wrongfully detained," moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government's chief hostage negotiator.

Then last week, in an extraordinary move, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.

The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops into Ukraine more than five months ago. The direct outreach over Griner is at odds with U.S. efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

People familiar with the proposal say it envisions trading Griner and Whelan for the notorious arms trader Viktor Bout. It underlines the public pressure that the White House has faced to get Griner released.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a "bad faith" response to the U.S. government's offer, a counteroffer that American officials don't regard as serious. She declined to elaborate.

Russian officials have scoffed at U.S. statements about the case, saying they show disrespect for Russian law. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to discuss the issue through "quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information."

In a handwritten letter from Griner that was delivered to the White House, the WNBA player wrote how terrified she is that she may be imprisoned in Russia "forever."