Almost six months after she was arrested at an airport near Moscow, a Russian court on Thursday found WNBA star
The court sentenced Griner to nine-and-a-half years in prison and levied a fine of 1 million rubles (about $16,590). She received an eight-year sentence on one charge and an 18-month sentence for a second, with the judge crediting the time she had already spent behind bars while awaiting the outcome of the trial.
Griner’s conviction has already renewed calls for a proposed prisoner swap with Russia for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer imprisoned in the United States, in exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, a security consultant convicted on espionage charges in 2020. After news of the conviction broke on Thursday, President Joseph Biden issued a statement calling on the Russian government to release Griner, promising that his administration would “continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to return Griner and Whelan to the United States.
“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,”
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges in a Russian court last month, with her attorneys subsequently offering evidence that she used cannabis medicinally with a doctor’s recommendation. The lawyers also noted that her cannabis use had been officially sanctioned by Arizona’s medical marijuana program.
‘An Honest Mistake’
Before the court handed down its guilty verdict, prosecutors and Griner’s lawyers made their closing statements in the case. Speaking through a court interpreter, the star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury said that she had made “an honest mistake under stress” to pack her luggage before flying to Moscow.
“I grew up in a normal household in Houston, Texas, with my siblings and my mom and my dad. My mom stayed at home to take care of me and my sister, and my father went to work and provided for our family,” Griner told the court. “My parents taught me two things: One is to take ownership for your responsibilities, and two, to work hard for everything that you have.”
Griner apologized to her parents, her spouse and her teams in Russia and the United States. She added that she was aware of talk that she was a “political pawn,” although she tried to distance herself from such speculation and said she hoped it would not be a factor in the court’s decision.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, to put in jeopardy the Russian population or violate any Russian laws,” she noted.
Although she did not talk to reporters, Griner said “I love my family” as she was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Griner’s Attorneys Vow To Appeal
Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, issued a written statement after the conviction was handed down, saying they will appeal the decision and criticizing the court for its decision.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,”
CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall said the stiff sentence was not a surprise and argued that the trial was illegitimate.
“This is all performance in Russia. There was never any doubt as to what was going to happen,” said Hall. “What Vladimir Putin is trying to do is basically drive up the bargaining price of Ms. Griner.”