Brittney Griner has been found guilty by a Russian court on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison.
The WNBA star, who was arrested back in February at a Moscow airport after authorities found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her belongings, was found guilty on drug smuggling and possession charges and sentenced to serve nine years in prison and fined 1 million rubles (about $16,700).
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said in a statement to the court ahead of today's verdict, according to the Associated Press. “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Griner's defense attorney, Maria Blagovolina, said the two-time Olympic gold medalist was “very upset, very stressed" following the ruling. "She can hardly talk. It’s a difficult time for her.” A representative for the WNBA said in a statement that Griner still has the league's "full support" behind her, hoping that she received a "swift and safe return." Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas described the sentence as being "severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn.”
Griner had previously plead guilty to the charges early in July explaining to the courts that “there was no intent” behind her actions, having packed her suitcase in a rush, and that she “didn’t want to break the law." Having already spent over five months behind Russian bars, Griner has previously made appeals to President Joe Biden to help negotiate her release, writing in a letter to the White House: "I’m terrified I might be here forever."
Just one year less than the maximum possible sentence for the charges, Biden decried the sentence as "unacceptable" going on to call on Russia "to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates.” Both Biden and Vice President Harris have previously spoken with Griner's wife, Cherelle, about the White House's efforts to reach a deal with Russia to bring her home.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently announced that the State Department had put out an offer to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the safe release of Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan into American custody. A complete departure from the Department of Justice's moratorium on prisoner swaps, the proposal comes amidst rising tensions between the US and Russia over the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Photo via Getty/ ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/ POOL/ AFP
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