MOSCOW (Fwrd Axis) — WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted on drug charges in a Russian court on Thursday.
Griner pleaded guilty last month to the charges in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence as attention will now turn to a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Prosecutors had asked the court for a sentence of 9 1/2 years. An emotional Griner apologized and said she never intended to break any rules when in the country, saying she had made “an honest mistake.”
Judge Anna Sotnikova announced the Phoenix Mercury center had been found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. Griner will also have to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590) but her legal team can also appeal the verdict.
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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
A U.S. official told FWRD AXIS News they do not expect quick movement from the Russians to do a prisoner swap but they will keep pushing the issue.
Brittney Griner’s lawyers said she was “very disappointed” and “very surprised” by the verdict.
“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” her lawyers said in a separate statement.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Mercury called on the Biden administration to secure Griner’s freedom and bring her home.
“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,” the team said in a statement. “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.”
Griner was detained back in February when she was arrested for drug smuggling charges.
Russian authorities allege that the 31-year-old had cannabis-derived vape cartridges in her possession while at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. While Brittney Griner’s agent has not confirmed what the WNBA star did have, it is thought to have been non-psychoactive cannabidiol or CBD. It is popular among professional athletes to use in the middle of injury recovery and the World Anti-Doping Agency removed it from its list of prohibited substances in 2018.