A judge in Russia convicted and sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison Thursday for drug possession and smuggling. Judge Anna Sotnikova said the time Griner has served in custody since her arrest in February would count toward the sentence.
A Russian prosecutor demanded that Griner be handed a stiff prison sentence and fined for bringing hashish oil into the country, but Griner told a judge she had no intention of committing a crime.
The prosecutor told the judge that Griner, who flew to Russia in February to play for a team there during her offseason from the Women’s National Basketball Association in the U.S., should be sentenced to 9½ years in prison and fined $16,590. She pleaded guilty in the case.
The 31-year-old Griner, standing in her courtroom prison cage, told the judge that she had no intention to conspire or plan to commit a crime, saying she had made “an honest mistake, and I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of [Yekaterinburg] for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, her voice cracking. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
She held up a picture of herself with her Russian teammates. During her weeks-long trial, Griner has said that in the past she has used the vape cartridges of hashish oil for pain management. Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Griner faces a maximum 10-year sentence. But her lawyers pleaded for leniency, comparing her renown as a basketball star to world-class sprinter Usain Bolt and Formula One race car driver Michael Schumacher.
While her court case has slowly ground on, Griner has become entwined in fraught, high-level prisoner-swap negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.
The U.S. proposed in June that Russia release Griner and accused spy Paul Whelan, both of whom Washington contends have been illegally detained by Moscow, in exchange for the U.S. freeing Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, discussed a possible prisoner exchange last week but no deal was reached pending the outcome of the Griner trial. News reports say Russia is also calling for the release of another Russian, a convicted murderer sentenced to life imprisonment in December in Germany.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.