A Russian judge sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in a penal colony after the WNBA star and two-time United States Olympic gold medalist was found guilty of drug possession.
Griner, who entered a guilty plea weeks ago, apologized to her family and wife.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said addressing the judge.
Now that the trial has concluded, negotiations to free Griner are expected to continue between Washington and Moscow during a period of tension between the two countries.
Griner, who had played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 during the WNBA offseason, was arrested Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Russian authorities said she carried vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage; Griner said during the trial that took place in Khmiki, Russia, that she accidentally packed them in haste and pleaded guilty “without intent.” The court, however, claimed she committed the crime deliberately.
“The hard work that my parents instilled in me is what brought me to play for the best EuroLeague and Russian team here in Ekaterinburg,” Griner said Thursday from a cage inside the courtroom. “I want to apologize to my teammates, the club, the fans and the city of (Ekaterinburg for) the mistake that I made and the embarrassment I brought.
“This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win a championship and make them proud.”
Experts in the Russian legal system – which has a 99% conviction rate – said admitting to the transgression could result in leniency on the 10-year maximum sentence Griner faced.
The lead prosecutor against Griner asked the judge to sentence her to nine years and six months in a prison colony.
“I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and politics. But I hope that is far from this courtroom,” Griner said.
Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, Griner’s lawyers in Russia, previously advocated for leniency in a statement. The defense team presented character witnesses from her Russian team and written testimony from a doctor who said he recommended her cannabis for pain treatment.
“Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence,” they said.
Griner’s lawyers called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable” and said it did not account for her plea. They will file an appeal.
Griner, 31, won the 2014 WNBA title in her second season with the Phoenix Mercury, the only WNBA team for which she has played. She is a two-time scoring champion and has led the league in blocks eight times. She also won gold for Team USA women’s basketball at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
In a joint statement, the WNBA and NBA said: “Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate … it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”
Griner’s arrest did not become public knowledge until nearly three weeks after it occurred. Americans arrested abroad typically have consular access – a staffer at the nearest U.S. Embassy can provide legal assistance. Griner was unable to meet with any representative of the U.S. government until March 23.
On May 3, the U.S. State Department officially classified her as “wrongfully detained,” and her case moved into the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Her trial, referred to as a “sham” by those with expertise in the Russian legal system, began July 1. Prosecutors argued Griner had less than one gram of cannabis in her luggage.
Published: August 04, 2022
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