WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug smuggling and cannabis possession charges in a Russian court on Thursday and sentenced to nine years in prison. She was also fined 1,000,000 Russian rubles, which is just over $16,000.
Prosecutors were seeking a 9.5-year sentence for Griner. The verdict comes after a trial that lasted one month.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Biden said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for having vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage in February.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, over six months after originally being detained, the 31-year-old WNBA star told the judge that she “never meant to break any law.”
“I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” Griner said as she addressed the court on Wednesday.
In July prior to her trial, the U.S. State Department argued that Griner was “wrongfully detained. As a result, the United States moved her case to the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken communicated with Russian Secretary of State Sergey Lavrov last week in what CBS News referred to as an “extraordinary move” and asked him to accept a swap of Griner and Paul Whelan, who is an American currently imprisoned in Russian on charges related to an espionage conviction.
According to CBS News, “people familiar with the proposal” say Griner and Whelan would be swapped for notorious arms trader Viktor Bout.
A prisoner swap is still not out of the question now that Griner has been found guilty.