Basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison on Friday for bringing less than a gram of hashish oil into the country earlier this year.
During closing arguments on Thursday, prosecutors pushed for nine and a half years in prison, just shy of the max sentence for the drug possession and smuggling charges Griner pleaded guilty to in July. In her final statement before the sentence was handed down, Griner said “she never meant to hurt anybody” and that she “made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here.”
Griner pleaded guilty last month given an all-but-predetermined outcome in a country where courts have a 99 percent conviction rate. She said she accidentally brought the hash oil into Russia and that she was prescribed medical cannabis in the U.S. for chronic pain related to her nine years playing in the WNBA — in addition to playing basketball abroad during the off-season to supplement her income. Last week, she testified that when she was arrested in February, her rights were not read to her and she was told to sign documents without receiving a translation. Her arrest in February was widely considered to be politically motivated, as American relations with Russia deteriorated ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department has been actively working to bring home Griner for months. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed a prisoner swap for Griner and the accused spy Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018. The U.S. has reportedly offered Viktor Bout, an arms trafficker known as the “merchant of death,” in exchange for the Americans. Though the Department of Justice generally does not support prisoner swaps, Bout’s attorney said this week he is “confident this is going to get done.”
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