On Thursday, Brittney Griner was convicted in a Russian court on charges of illegally smuggling drugs and sentenced to nine years in prison. President Joe Biden and the State Department maintain the WNBA star is being wrongfully detained by the Russian government.
The verdict: Griner was detained in Russia on Feb. 17 and accused by prosecutors of smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country. According to Griner’s lawyers, she was prescribed the oil in 2020 to treat injury-related pain. A doctor’s letter was submitted as proof. Griner has apologized and pleaded guilty to drug charges last month.
“My parents taught me two important things: One, take ownership for your responsibilities and two, work hard for everything that you get. That’s why I pleaded guilty to my charges,” Griner said, per The New York Times.
Griner faced up to 10 years in prison under Russian law, and prosecutors asked that the two-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist be sentenced to 9.5 years. On Thursday, the court sentenced her to nine years in prison and a fine of one million rubles (around $16,300).
What’s next? Griner’s legal team said the verdict was “absolutely unreasonable” and claimed the court ignored evidence and failed to consider Griner’s guilty plea. They plan to file an appeal.
President Joe Biden released a statement after the verdict was announced, reiterating his stance that “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” promising to “continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Biden’s administration has offered to swap Viktor Bout, an arms dealer imprisoned in the U.S., for Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. Russia has been accused of using the two Americans as political pawns, possibly to use as leverage in negotiations related to the war in Ukraine.
What Griner said: “I never meant to hurt anybody,” Griner told the court in Khimki, Russia on Thursday. “I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here.”