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Brittney Griner Found Guilty of Drug Charges; Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 4, 2022

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

A Russian court found Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner guilty of drug possession and smuggling charges on Thursday, according to Jennifer Hansler of CNN.

Jennifer Hansler @jmhansler

MORE: The court said that Griner committed the crime deliberately. Although Griner pleaded guilty, she testified she did not intend to bring the small amount of cannabis into the country, and that it had been prescribed by a doctor.

The judge sentenced her to nine years in prison. Prosecutors had earlier asked for a sentence of nine-and-a-half years.

Griner's defense team called the verdict "absolutely unreasonable," adding they will "certainly" appeal the decision, per Ivan Nechepurenko of the New York Times.

President Joe Biden issued a statement on the verdict as well:

"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. 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 Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

The WNBA and NBA also issued a joint statement in response to the verdict:

WNBA @WNBA

WNBA and <a href="https://twitter.com/NBA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBA</a> statement regarding Brittney Griner ⬇️ <a href="https://t.co/jlQlVS3ZtL">pic.twitter.com/jlQlVS3ZtL</a>

Griner pleaded guilty in July, but trials in Russia continue regardless. ESPN's T.J. Quinn reported at the time the plea "was a strategy to help facilitate a prisoner swap that could bring Griner home, and it also was a recognition that there was no way she was going to be acquitted."

With the trial in its closing stages Thursday, the seven-time All-Star told the court she "made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here."

"I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws," she said. "I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime."

Griner was arrested in February after allegedly carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. The U.S. State Department classified her as wrongfully detained in May, and she has now been under arrest in Russia for 168 days.

CNN's Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Hansler reported on July 28 the Biden administration was ready to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 on espionage charges and received a 16-year prison sentence.

However, Natasha Bertrand and Frederik Pleitgen of CNN reported on Monday that Russian officials requested to have convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov released from custody in Germany along with Bout as part of the deal.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing officials from the Biden administration "want to see Brittney Griner home" and "want to see Paul Whelan home." Jean-Pierre added the administration believed Russia was negotiating in bad faith and didn't table "a serious counteroffer."

John Kirby, the spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, struck a similar tone Tuesday.

"Obviously, we’re not going to negotiate this thing in public," he told reporters at a press briefing. "And I do appreciate the question, but we...look, we’ve made a serious proposal, made a serious offer. And we urge the Russians to take that offer, because it was done with sincerity and...and we know we can back it up."

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