Shocking news out of Russia today, as WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in prison on drug possession and smuggling charges.
The 31-year-old has been locked up since February, when she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow.
She entered the country to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA’s offseason, and was detained when security found a small amount of hash oil in her luggage.
That was the moment when Griner’s life changed forever, and now, her only hope for freedom is a prisoner exchange between the US and Russian governments.
Griner sat in a cell as her sentence was read, as is customary in Russian courtrooms.
Witnesses say Griner remained stoic and declined to speak after the judge’s decision was revealed.
In addition to spending the next decade behind bars, Griner has been fined 1 million rubles, which is the equivalent of about $16,000.
In July, Griner pled guilty to the charges against her, explaining that she packed in a hurry and was not aware that the hash oil cartridges were in her luggage.
Griner’s lawyers also noted that she has a prescription for medicinal cannabis use.
The guilty plea was likely entered with the hope that it would mean a lighter sentence for Griner, but clearly, that did not turn out to be the case.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in court today ahead of her sentencing.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
Several politicians and public figures have spoken out in support of Griner, including President Joe Biden, who tweeted about the situation shortly after the sentence was announced:
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
CNN and other outlets have reported that the White House has entered talks to secure the freedom of Griner and ex-Marine Whelan in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Bout is currently serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to sell weapons that would be used to kill Americans.
Bout’s life inspired the Nicolas Cage film Lord Of War, about an arms dealer who wreaks havoc throughout the world.
CNN is reporting that Russia has also requested that the US help secure the freedom of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian colonel sentenced to life in prison in Germany for murdering a Chechen fighter there in 2019.
Obviously, Bout and Krasikov’s crimes are far more serious than anything that Griner has been accused of, but the important thing now is bringing Brittney home and ending this long nightmare.
We’ll have further updates on this developing story as more information becomes available.