A Russian court has found American WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of deliberately bringing cannabis-infused vapor cartridges into the country, sentencing her to nine years in prison, Reuters reported.
Griner, who entered the guilty plea, is one of the WNBA’s breakout stars, described by her attorneys as the “Usain Bolt” of women’s basketball, according to Reuters. Prosecutors asked for 9.5 years and a fine of 1 million rubles, according to Reuters.
Her bag contained less than 1 gram of oil, according to CNN.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney,” said President Joe Biden. he said in a statement after the verdict. “It is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately to be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates. My government will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every avenue possible to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her. Even after completing the sentence I hope @POTUS & @White House will continue to do everything in their power to bring home Brittney Griner and all other Americans held abroad
— Brianna Turner (@_Breezy_Briii) August 4, 2022
Griner, although a star in the WNBA, is playing overseas during the WNBA offseason, according to NPR.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city (of Yekaterinburg) for the mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them,” Giner said, according to Associated Press, Thursday. “I also want to apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back home, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing husband back home.”
Throughout the case, Griner repeatedly maintained that she did not intend to break the law and that she was looking forward to playing with her Russian teammates, according to NPR. Her defense highlighted the fact that she has a medical marijuana license in Arizona, NPR reported.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope with your decision that my life doesn’t end here,” Griner told the court, according to NPR. Griner referred to Russia as her “second home” and that she wanted to “win championships and make it [my Russian teammates] proud.”
Defense attorney Alexander Boykov noted that Griner was a respected member of the Yekaterinburg community and held in high regard by her teammates, the AP reported. Defense attorney Maria Blagovolina emphasized Griner’s lack of criminal record and her role as an ambassador for basketball in Russia, according to the AP.
Last week, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken reached out to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, offering a prisoner swap in which Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan (jailed in Russia on espionage charges) would be exchanged by the Russian arms dealer. Viktor Bout, according to the AP. White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday that Russia responded with a “bad faith” counterproposal, declining to elaborate.
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