Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison on drug charges

A Russian state prosecutor had requested 9.5 years in prison for Griner, who said in her closing remarks that bringing the cartridges into Russia had been “an honest mistake”.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

A Russian state prosecutor had requested 9.5 years in prison for Griner, who said in her closing remarks that bringing the cartridges into Russia had been “an honest mistake”.

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years prison on drugs charges after finding her guilty of narcotics possession and smuggling for bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia.

A Russian state prosecutor had requested 9.5 years in prison for Griner, who said in her closing remarks that bringing the cartridges into Russia had been “an honest mistake”.

She has also been fined 1 million rubles, equivalent of roughly $16,500 US.

Griner faced a maximum of 10 years in prison for drug possession after pleading guilty.

“I never meant to hurt anybody,” Griner said in closing statements. “I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here.

“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom. I want to say again that I had no intent of breaking Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.”

Griner also apologized for any embarrassment brought to her Russian basketball club.

‘unjustified and unfortunate’
“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongfully detained,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a joint statement.
“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

Prior to Griner’s opportunity to speak to the court, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence the WNBA star to 9 1/2 years in prison, short of the maximum of 10 years. Russian media pointed out Thursday that the case is less theater than some might believe, using the precedent of Pennsylvania school teacher Marc Fogel. He was sentenced to 14 years in Russian prison after being arrested with what he said was medical marijuana for back pain.

The political backdrop of the case is unavoidable as United States and Kremlin officials confirmed negotiations for Griner’s release as part of a prisoner swap have taken place. Russia has asked for the release of Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in Illinois for conspiring to kill Americans and sell weapons to Colombian terrorists.

However, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Russia made only a “bad faith attempt” to counter the proposed swap by attempting to including additional prisoners locked up in the United States.

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