A Russian court has found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty on drug smuggling charges and sentenced her to nine years in prison.
The verdict came down shortly after prosecutors demanded she be sentenced to nine years and six months behind bars, just six months shy of the maximum punishment provided for by Russian law.
The decision was swiftly condemned by U.S. President Joe Biden, who called it “unacceptable” and demanded her immediate release in a statement. The WNBA and NBA also issued a joint statement blasting the ruling as “unjustified and unfortunate.”
“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,” the statement read.
Griner, charged with drug smuggling after Russian authorities discovered vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February, pleaded guilty last month in a bid to receive a more lenient sentence.
The Phoenix Mercury center testified in court that she had accidentally placed the cartridges in her luggage while rushing to join her team UMMC Ekaterinburg in Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA off-season.
Ahead of the verdict on Thursday, she apologized to the court and pleaded for leniency.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope in your ruling it does not end my life,” she said.
“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. “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.”
The Biden administration, which has described Griner as “wrongfully” detained, offered to release notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout to Russian custody in exchange for Griner and her fellow American captive Paul Whelan, though the Kremlin has reportedly said the release of one Russian prisoner would be insufficient.
During her trial, Griner’s defense provided proof that she was given a medical clearance by her physician to use cannabis oil for chronic pain, and a forensic expert called by her defense said the exam of the cartridges used to charge her “does not comply with the law.”
Griner also testified that her initial questioning by investigators was bungled by an interpreter who failed to translate what she was saying or explain to her what documents she was made to sign actually said.