Basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison after being convicted on drug charges by a Moscow court Thursday.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 9 1/2 years after closing arguments in a lengthy trial that has underscored frayed relations between the United States and Russia since the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Why it matters
Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February; Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, admitted the canisters were hers. She said she took them to Russia unintentionally.
The Kremlin has been accused of using Griner as a political pawn, while the Biden administration has been under growing pressure from her family and teammates to secure her release.
After Thursday’s verdict, attention will turn to the potential for a prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. U.S. officials are not expecting rapid movement in the effort to get Griner released, but will keep pressing the issue
What they said
Prior to the verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in the Khimki city courthouse. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.
“I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she added.