UPDATE: Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison on August 4. Judge Anna Sotnikova convicted the Phoenix Mercury center of drug possession and smuggling, NBC News reported
In court, Griner said packing her two vape cartridges with cannabis oil was “an honest mistake” but the judge offered no leniency.
“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” the two-time gold medalist’s lawyers told NBC.
After the verdict was announced, president Joe Biden addressed the lengthy sentence in a statement.
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. 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.
U.S officials plan to still press for a prisoner swap of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner. Her lawyers plan to appeal her sentence.
Russian prosecutors are asking for a harsh sentence in the case of Brittney Griner. On August 4, prosecutors asked for a nine-and-a-half year sentence, The Washington Post reported. The 31-year-old is already facing 10 years in Russian prison and prosecutors re asking for close to the maximum. They are also seeking a fine of 1 million rubles, which equates to $16,590.
Brittney Griner pled guilty to drug charges in July. She’s been in Russian prison since July after vape cartridges containing 0.702 grams of cannabis oil was found in her luggage. Her defense team told the court that Griner has a prescription for medical marijuana due to chronic pain. Griner said she packed the vape cartridges by accident. Griner was in Russia to play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team during the WNBA off-season.
After the Phoenix Mercury player was declared wrongfully-detained by the U.S, they offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner. Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. A Kremlin spokesman named Dmitry Peskov told CNN that “so far, there is no agreement on this issue.” An unnamed U.S official said that Moscow has not been responsive to the proposed offer. This plan has been backed by president Joe Biden as well.
“We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side,” the unnamed official said. “We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip,” the official said. “So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations.”
One of Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boikov, asked that she be acquitted because she didn’t have any criminal intent by bringing her vape cartridges.
“We know that in Russia the laws regarding drugs are very strict but Russia also cares about its prestige in sports,” Boikov said in court according to the Post. “Griner’s career, and her play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team during the WNBA offseason, has been a celebration of friendship between people. She had many offers, but she for some reason chose cold Yekaterinburg, knowing how warmly she would be received there.”
Brittney Griner is expected to be sentenced by this evening.