Brittney Griner found guilty, sentenced to 9-year prison stay after drug trial
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison on drug charges in a Russian court after her trial ended on Thursday.
President Joe Biden released a statement of support for Griner following the sentence being handed down.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew,” the president’s release read. “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. 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.”
The Phoenix Mercury released the following upon Griner’s sentencing:
While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG.
We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months.
We remain grateful to and confident in the public servants working every day to return her to her family and us.
We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention.
We are inspired every day by BG’s strength and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil.
We will not allow her to be forgotten. We are BG.
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 4, 2022
With a judge set to issue an unusually swift verdict later in the day and a conviction all but certain, Griner made a final appeal to the court earlier Thursday. She said she had no intention to break the law by bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.
“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 before the sentencing was handed down, her voice cracking. “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.”
"I made an honest mistake."
Brittney Griner delivers statement in Russian court ahead of an expected verdict: "I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics. But I hope that that is far from this courtroom." https://t.co/nEpVrwligV pic.twitter.com/MFBo1wmzn3
— ABC News (@ABC) August 4, 2022
Under Russian law, the 31-year-old Griner faced up to 10 years in prison, but judges have considerable latitude on sentencing.
Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko insisted that Griner packed the cannabis oil deliberately, and he asked the court to hand Griner a fine of 1 million rubles (about $16,700) in addition to the prison sentence.
Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist have sought to bolster Griner’s contention that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage by mistake. They presented character witnesses from the Yekaterinburg team that she plays for in the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment from injuries sustained in her basketball career.
Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner used cannabis only in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.
She emphasized that Griner was packing in haste after a grueling flight and suffering from the consequences of COVID-19. Blagovolina also pointed out that the analysis of cannabis found in Griner’s possession was flawed and violated legal procedures.
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, Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister 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, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States. It underlines the public pressure that the White House has faced to get Griner released.