WNBA player Brittney Griner was given a 9-year prison term for drug offenses by a Russian court.

Before a court hearing on Thursday in Khimki, a city outside of Moscow, Brittney Griner is seen standing inside a defendants’ cage holding a picture of her Russian basketball team. AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina remove caption

switch to caption AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina

Before a court hearing on Thursday in Khimki, a city outside of Moscow, Brittney Griner is seen standing inside a defendants’ cage holding a picture of her Russian basketball team.

AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina MOSCOW Brittney Griner was found guilty of cocaine trafficking and possession by a Russian court. After a month-long trial and about six months after the basketball star was detained at an airport in the Moscow region with cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage, the eagerly anticipated judgement was announced.

The judge gave Griner a nine-year prison term.

Given that Russian criminal courts have a claimed 99 percent conviction rate, the trial’s verdict was not particularly surprising. But it seems as though politics will now decide Griner’s fate.

Under pressure from the public to achieve her release, the Biden administration has tried to negotiate with Russia to free both her and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. Any prospective agreement, including a supposed prisoner swap in which the U.S. would free renowned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, would have to wait until the court’s decision, according to Russia.

The prosecution had asked for a sentence of 9 years and 6 months in a prison colony earlier on Thursday during the two sides’ closing arguments. Griner’s defense lawyer requested that she be cleared of all charges or that the judge be lenient in any sentence that is meted out to her. In addition, the 31-year-old spoke for herself.

I made a sincere mistake, and I hope your decision won’t mean the end of my existence in this place, Griner stated.

The NBA champion and Olympian claims she must have put the marijuana in her purse by accident. Griner has a medical marijuana card in Arizona, according to her defense team, which she uses to manage the injuries she has accumulated over years of competing. But in Russia, like to federal legislation in the United States, it is always unlawful to possess cannabis for personal use.

In their closing arguments, Griner’s defense attorneys argued for her acquittal or at the very least a light sentence by pointing to Griner’s contributions to the development of Russian women’s basketball and outlining irregularities in her arrest and detention, including a lack of access to qualified translators.

Additionally, the basketball player’s attorneys pointed out that despite receiving a prescription for medical marijuana from a U.S. physician to treat chronic pain during the offseason, she had never failed a drug test.

Defense attorney Maria Blagovolina questioned, “What does this show?” It demonstrates that Brittney Griner didn’t intend to import marijuana into Russia and merely smoked it at home in very modest doses.

Griner repeated that she never intended to break any laws or cause harm to anyone in her closing argument to the judge.

She expressed regret for any harm she may have caused to her Russian teammates and said, “This is my second home and all I wanted to do was win championships and make them happy.”

One week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Griner was detained in February. Her incarceration rapidly gave rise to rumors that Putin’s administration intended to use her as leverage against the United States. In her final arguments to the judge on Thursday, Griner made a reference to that.

She stated, “I know that politics and political pawns are constantly being discussed, but I hope it is removed from this courtroom.
An overview of Griner’s ordeal is provided below:

Feb. 17: Griner is held at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Griner was wrongfully detained, according to the American State Department, on May 3. On May 28, American Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan refers to Griner as a “bargaining chip” amid speculation about a potential prisoner exchange. On July 1, the prosecution in court will break the seal on their case. On July 7, Griner enters a guilty plea to drug charges as speculation of a prisoner swap increases. Griner speaks in court on July 27 and claims she unintentionally imported marijuana into Russia. On July 27, the United States claims it made a deal with Russia in exchange for Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. closing arguments start on August 4th. Griner is the Phoenix Mercury’s star center. However, she participates in foreign leagues during the U.S. league’s offseason, where she earns significantly more money than she does in the WNBA. She has recently been a member of the Russian squad UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is run by oligarch Iskander Makhmudov. The group has longstanding ties with Griner’s American squad.

Griner was seized as she traveled from the US to rejoin her Russian team.

The group working to liberate Griner has expanded beyond just her basketball teammates and supporters. Numerous civil rights organizations, including the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, submitted a letter to President Biden this summer pleading with him to handle her issue urgently.

Reporting from Russia was Maynes. From Washington, D.C., Chappell and Treisman provided a report.
This story is still developing. For updates, come back here.

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