WNBA Star Brittney Griner Sentenced To 9 Years In Russian Prison After Pleading Guilty To Drug Possession Charges

Many have no sympathy for Griner after she took a stand against playing the national anthem before basketball games


(People) WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison, on charges of smuggling drugs into the country.

Griner’s lawyers said, in a statement shared with PEOPLE, that the verdict, just below the maximum sentence of 10 years, is “absolutely unreasonable” and said they will “certainly file an appeal.”

A Russian judge read Griner, 31, her verdict Thursday about an hour after her lawyers and the prosecution presented their closing arguments. The Phoenix Mercury star had given an emotional speech, reiterating her stance that though she pled guilty to bringing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil into Russia, she did so “inadvertently” and asked the court for leniency.

“That’s why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that’s been said against me, the charges that are against me and that is why I pled guilty but I had no intents to break any Russian laws,” Griner said, according to CNN.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said the ruling was “unacceptable.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

Russian prosecutors had asked the judge during closing arguments to sentence Griner to nine years and six months in prison, just below the maximum allowed sentence of 10 years. The prosecution also asked that Griner was fined 1 million rubles, roughly equivalent to $16,600, according to The New York Times.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner holds images standing in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the Khimki City Court outside Moscow, Russia, 27 July 2022. Griner, a World Champion player of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury team was arrested in February at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after some hash oil was detected and found in her luggage, for which she now could face a prison sentence of up to ten years. US basketball player Brittney Griner attends hearing on drug charges, Moscow, Russian Federation - 27 Jul 2022

As the Russian court ruled on Griner’s case, the Biden administration is still working on a striking a deal with Russian officials to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in the country, home.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday that the Russian court’s ruling “spotlights our concerns with the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions.”

Last Wednesday, Blinken said that the Biden administration offered a “substantial” deal to Russia to secure the pair’s release, the White House confirmed to PEOPLE, and he reiterated Thursday that they plan to “do everything we can” to bring Griner and Paul Whelan home “as soon as possible.”

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