WNBA Star Brittney Griner Sentenced To 9 Years In Russian Drug Smuggling Case

Brittney Griner is facing nearly a decade behind bars.

A Russian court found the WNBA star guilty of drug possession and smuggling on Thursday, more than five months after she was detained on drug charges when Russian authorities allegedly found vape cartridges containing hash oil inside her luggage at an airport near Moscow.

A judge determined that the athlete had committed the crime deliberately and sentenced her to nine years in prison and a 1 million ruble fine, which amounts to approximately $16,000.

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 27, 2022. – Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, was detained at Moscow airport in February on charges of carrying in her luggage vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence. (Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Griner pleaded guilty in July and was reportedly emotional when delivering an apology in court this week. ESPN reports that the basketball player’s voice cracked as she acknowledged the loved ones who have supported her throughout the ordeal.

“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. 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 said.

Griner’s attorneys were seeking an acquittal and reportedly intend to appeal. According to the New York Times, the defense team called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable.”

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement to NBC News and pledged his dedication to further pursuing a potential prisoner exchange with Russia to bring Griner and fellow jailed American Paul Whelan back to the states.

“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,” Biden’s statement read. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

31-year-old Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and has spent the last seven winters playing in Russia, most recently for the country’s team UMMC Yekaterinburg in January before a two-week break, per NBC News.

She is a seven-time all-star and won the WNBA championship with the Mercury in 2014.

Her current legal situation comes amid the ongoing conflict between Russia and its neighboring country of Ukraine. President Biden issued a number of sanctions against Russia earlier this year amid the invasion.

— Erin Biglow

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