Brittney Griner found guilty, sentenced to 9 ½ years on drug charges

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted into a courtroom prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

By Tatum Mitchell | Opinion Editor

Brittney Griner, eight-time WNBA All-Star and former Lady Bear, has received a nine-and-a-half-year sentence from a Russian court on cannabis possession charges, six months after her arrest at a Moscow airport.

Baylor's Brittney Griner holds the trophy as she and teammate celebrate after an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional final against Tennessee, Monday, March 26, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. Baylor won 77-58. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Baylor's Brittney Griner holds the trophy as she and teammate celebrate after an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional final against Tennessee, Monday, March 26, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. Baylor won 77-58. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“The verdict, virtually preordained in a legal system in which defendants are rarely acquitted, leaves Ms. Griner’s fate subject to diplomatic bargaining between Russia and the United States,” The New York Times wrote. “The countries have been discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange that would bring Ms. Griner home from Russia, where she has been detained since traveling there in mid-February.”

The Biden administration attempted negotiations with Russia in order to free Griner along with another American, Paul Whelan. Russia said any deal would be considered after the court’s verdict, which is expected during the ruling scheduled for later Thursday.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

The two-time U.S. Olympic champion possessed vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage at the time of her arrest. Along with her sentence, the judge issued Griner a fine of approximately $16,300. Griner said she “never meant to break any law.”

Griner’s defense team pointed out she has a medical marijuana card in Arizona due to her sports-related injuries; however, any kind of cannabis possession is illegal in Russia.

“In their closing arguments, Griner’s defense attorneys cited Griner’s contributions to the growth of Russian women’s basketball and detailed irregularities in her arrest and detention — including a lack of access to qualified translators — in arguing for Griner’s acquittal or at least a lenient sentence,” NPR wrote.

In her final statements, Griner apologized for any damage she may have caused to her teammates and said, “This is my second home, and all I wanted to do was win championships and make them proud.”

In a heartbroken tone, Griner added, “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)