WNBA star Brittney Griner has been found guilty of drug possession and smuggling by a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Russian prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko on Thursday had asked the court to sentence her to 9 1/2 years in prison, in addition to a 1million ruble fine ($16,700).
Griner, 31, was caught in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in a Moscow airport after flying home from playing basketball for a club in Yekaterinburg.
She has already spent nearly six months in a Russian prison.
An emotional Griner apologized in court.
‘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 stated.
‘I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.’
Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that the she only used the cartridges in Arizona, where she plays for Phoenix Mercury.
Medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, and Griner was prescribed the drug to treat her chronic pain.
Blagovolina also argued that Griner forgot the cartridges were packed in her luggage after dealing with a long flight and the aftermath of Covid-19.
President Joe Biden condemned the sentence.
‘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,’ stated Biden.
‘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.’
Outside the Russian court, Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’Affaires of the US embassy in Russia, called the sentence ‘a miscarriage of justice’.
‘The US Department of State has determined that Ms. Griner was wrongfully detained,’ Rood said. ‘Nothing in today’s decision changes that determination.’
The US has reportedly offered Russia a for Griner. The deal would see the US free Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer currently serving a 25-year prison sentence, exchanged for Griner and fellow detained US citizen Paul Whelan.
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