Basketball player Brittney Griner, who was simply detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, leaves the courtroom prior to the court’s ultimate decision on Thursday. Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP via Getty Images
Brittney Griner will need to serve nine years in Russian prison on drug possession and smuggling charges, a Russian judge ruled Thursday, making the All-Star WNBA basketball players only choice for freedom a prisoner swap by the U.S. government.
The judges decision comes almost half a year after Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at Sheremetyevo AIRPORT TERMINAL near Moscow. Griner flew into Russia to play through the American leagues off-season and was stopped after Russian customs discovered significantly less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner sat in a cell, as is custom for folks on trial in Russia, because the judge browse the sentence. She appeared stoic, and declined to speak following the sentencing when asked by the judge.
Along with prison time, Griner was fined 1 million rubles, a lot more than US$16,000.
Griners trial just beyond Moscow found a detailed about one hour prior to the judges ruling. By the end of the monthlong trial, Russian prosecutors asked the Russian judge to sentence Griner to nine . 5 years in prison, half a year shy of the utmost penalty.
In the beginning of the trial last month, Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges. She and her defense team insisted the drugs were taken to Russia in error because she hastily packed before her trip. Last month, her attorneys showed the courtroom a prescription for the marijuana from the physician located in Griners home state of Arizona.
On Thursday, the basketball player apologized again for bringing the cannabis oil in to the country.
I never designed to hurt anybody, I never designed to devote jeopardy the Russian population, I never designed to break any laws here, Griner said in court. I made a genuine mistake and I am hoping that in your ruling that it generally does not end my entire life here. I understand everybody keeps discussing political pawn and politics, but I am hoping that that’s definately not this courtroom.
U.S. President Joe Biden needed Griners immediate release.
Its unacceptable, and I ask Russia release a her immediately so she could be with her wife, family members, friends, and teammates, Biden said in a statement soon after the sentencing. My administration will work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to create Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as quickly as possible.
The U.S. government tried to obtain Griner home prior to the end of her trial. Last month, Russia reported the U.S. wanted to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for both Griner and ex-Marine Whelan, whos been incarcerated in Russia since 2020. Bout happens to be 11 years right into a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to market weapons to individuals who planned to kill Americans.
Earlier this week, CNN reported via multiple undisclosed sources that Russian spy agency FSB asked the U.S. for both Bout and Vadim Krasikov, a Russian colonel sentenced alive in prison in Germany for murdering a Chechen fighter there in 2019, in trade for Griner and Whelan.
Griners incarceration is a major point of discussion about from U.S.-Russian relations to the treating women athletes within the U.S. Her arrest came only a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, a military operation that the U.S. and its own allies harshly opposed even before it began. Many experts believe Griners arrest was a strategic move by the Russian government to keep some leverage in the months after its attack on Ukraine.
Griners situation also highlighted the compensation for women players, that are paid a fraction of what their male counterparts make and frequently need to play in foreign countries to supplement their income.
In the first months of her incarceration, radio silence about her arrest and potential efforts to obtain her back had fans concerned about Griners well-being. The truth that Griner, a 6-foot-7, Black, and openly gay basketball player found herself imprisoned in a country known because of its hostility toward both Black people and the LGBTQ community led many to trust corruption would pervade her trial.
But because the trial approached, celebrities, teammates, and athletes began speaking from the players behalf. Griner herself penned a letter to Biden last month asking him, Dont just forget about me.
Not individuals were to get Griner. Earlier this week, former President Donald Trump criticized the efforts to switch a Russian criminal for the basketball player, saying Griner was spoiled and deserved to stay prison.
She knew you dont go within loaded up with drugs, Trump said. She got caught. And today, were likely to get her out.
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