WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty by a Russian court on Thursday on drug smuggling and possession charges, and was sentenced her to nine years in a Russian penal colony. The verdict came after closing arguments in Griner’s trial at a court near Moscow.
The two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist has been in a Russian jail for almost six months since her arrest at Moscow’s airport in February with two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her bags. Cannabis is illegal in Russia, but Griner’s attorneys have argued that she has a valid medical prescription and that she didn’t intentionally pack the cartridges. However in its verdict, the court ruled that Griner had deliberately intended to smuggle cannabis.
The 31-year-old, who’d faced a total of 10 years in prison, pleaded guilty to the charges last month in a bid for leniency from the court. Last week, Griner testified in her own defense, saying she packed the vape cartridges by accident and that she had ‘no intention’ of breaking Russian law. Prosecutors argued for a 9 1/2-year jail sentence for Griner; however, the court rejected those arguments and sentenced Griner to nine years in jail, and a fine of 9 million rubles (equal to about $150,000). The 9-year sentence is considered by many an excessive punishment for Griner possessing less than 2 grams of the cannabis oil. Griner’s attorneys said the verdict was “absolutely unreasonable” and promised to exercise the basketball star’s right to an appeal.
President Joe Biden said he’s doing everything possible to secure Griner’s release: “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 [imprisoned former U.S. Marine] Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Editorial credit: Keeton Gale / Shutterstock.com