WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- WNBA player Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison after a guilty plea.
- Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport after officials found cannabis cartridges in her luggage.
- The Biden administration has offered a prisoner swap to free Griner, but Russia has not formally responded.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug smuggling and cannabis possession charges in a Russian court on Thursday. She was sentenced to nine years in prison. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was also fined 1,000,000 Russian rubles, which is equivalent to a little over $16,000.
Prosecutors were seeking a 9.5-year sentence for Griner. The verdict comes after a trial that lasted one month.
“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,” President Biden said in a statement. “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.”
In February, Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for having vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner’s defense said that she had a medical-marijuana prescription in the U.S. and that she used the drug to help control pain from long-term injuries.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, over six months after originally being detained, the 31-year-old WNBA star told the judge that she “never meant to break any law.”
“I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” Griner said.
In July prior to her trial, the U.S. State Department argued that Griner was “wrongfully detained. As a result, the United States moved her case to the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken communicated with Russian Secretary of State Sergey Lavrov last week and asked him to accept a swap of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American ex-Marine currently imprisoned in Russian on charges related to an espionage conviction.
Reports say the U.S. offered to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the early release of both Griner and Whelan.
Source: NBC News