Russian court hands down verdict & sentence in WNBA star’s case

American basketball superstar Brittney Griner learned her fate in a Russian court after pleading guilty to a drug charge last month.

A Russian judge convicted Griner of drug possession and drug smuggling and sentenced her to 9 years in prison. Griner was also fined one million rubles, the equivalent of  $16,400 US dollars.

Brittney Griner, who is 31 showed up in court today in Khimki, just outside Moscow. Griner issued her apology ahead of her verdict hoping for a reduced sentence as prosecutors pushed for a 9.5-year sentence.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” she said. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”

Griner said she made “an honest mistake” when she brought vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis into a Moscow airport back in February, adding “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

Griner was coming back to Russia where she plays on the female Russian basketball team in her off season.

“I had no idea that the team, the cities, the fans, my teammates would make such a great impression on me over the 6 1/2 years that I spent here. I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls that were in the stands there waiting on me, and that’s what kept making me come back here,” she said.

Russian prosecutors argued Griner purposely packed the cannabis oil. Although Griner’s lawyers say their client was only using cannabis to treat pain, it did change the fact that it’s illegal to have the drug in Mother Russia.

The U.S. State Department had classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last week that the Biden administration offered a “substantial proposal” for the return of the basketball player and fellow American Paul Whelan.

Both Russian & US media have speculated about a trade. The trade would be for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.” Viktor is serving a 25-year sentence here in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Russian officials have made clear that no prisoner swap could happen until a conviction and sentence is handed down.