Brittney Griner sentenced by Russian court to 9 years in prison for drug possession on Thursday (8/4)
Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for bringing a marijuana pen into the country in February.
The WNBA star was found guilty of drug smuggling on Thursday by a judge who rejected her claim she accidentally brought the drugs in. Prosecutors had asked that she be jailed for nine-and-a-half years, six months less than the maximum of 10 years in prison.
As she left court, Griner, 31, told journalists: 'I love my family.'
Her attorneys say they have ten days to appeal the verdict and sentencing, and that the typical sentence handed down for such a crime is six years.
President Biden immediately denounced the sentence and claimed she was 'wrongfully detained' - despite her pleading guilty. She said it was an 'honest mistake' and that the drugs must have ended up in her bag 'by accident'.
In a statement immediately after the sentencing, Biden said: 'Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.'
He said he would continue to work 'tirelessly' to pursue 'every possible avenue' to bring her and Paul Whelan - another American imprisoned in Russia - home.
Griner, 31, was arrested at the airport in Moscow in February and has been incarcerated ever since, despite failed attempts from the White House to negotiate her release.
On Thursday, she sat in the defendant's cage inside the courtroom throughout the proceedings, relying on an interpreter to whisper to her everything the judge said.
John Kirby, the US National Security Council Director for Strategic Communications, echoed Biden's comments during an appearance on MSNBC.
Before the sentence was handed down, she begged for leniency and asked the court to take into consideration her good character.
A judge accepted her plea - finding her guilty of drug possession and smuggling. They ruled that she committed the crimes purposefully - which she has denied
She said she did not want to be considered a political pawn, and that bringing the cannabis pen into the country was a simple, 'honest mistake'.
'Russia became my second home. I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls coming out and waiting on me. That's what kept making me come back here.
'I want to apologize to my teammates, my club and the city for the mistakes that I made and the embarrassment that I brought.
'I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, Phoenix Mercury, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing spouse back at home.
'I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws.
'I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn't end my life. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics...but I hope that it's far from this courtroom.
'I had no intent on breaking Russian law. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.
'I hope you can take into account all the documents, the character lists that have been sent in on my behalf.
'This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win championships and make them proud
The State Department had been in talks to secure Griner's release as part of a deal that would also bring imprisoned American Paul Whelan home.
The deal has been on the table for weeks, but Russia is yet to agree.
US officials will not confirm reports that it includes freeing Viktor Boult, a Russian criminal known as the 'merchant of death'.
Griner's family say they have been frustrated with the White House response to the situation.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a 'bad faith' response to the US government's offer, a counteroffer that American officials don't regard as serious. Griner has acknowledged there were vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport.
But she insisted that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage because she was packing hastily.
'I still don't understand how they ended up in my bag,' she said.
As part of the deal, the White House proposed swapping Whelan and Griner, but not Mark Fogel - a teacher who was incarcerated in Russia in 2021 on suspicion of drug smuggling.
His family have begged the Biden administration for help. Many have called for Griner's release on the basis that marijuana is legal in the US.