On Thursday, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for smuggling drugs with criminal intent, and fined 1 million rubles, which is about $16,500. Following the ruling, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment in the decision.
“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” the statement read. “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”
The Mercury star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and accused of having hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to the drug charges in July and could have received a penalty of up to 10 years in prison as a result. During sentencing, Russian prosecutors asked for Griner to receive nine and a half years in prison.
Griner’s defense attorneys have argued that she used cannabis for medicinal purposes and that she had no intention of breaking the law when she arrived at the airport. They added that they will “certainly” file an appeal for the verdict and are disappointed by the ruling.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict,” they said in a statement, via CNN. “As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.”
As Griner’s trial has played out, the U.S. government has attempted to negotiate a deal for a prisoner swap that would return Griner to the country. The U.S. included convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in the deal, in exchange for Griner and American Paul Whelan, who is also being held in Russia.
Despite the length of Griner’s sentence, ESPN’s T.J. Quinn, who has been covering the proceedings for months, believes it is merely a formality as the two countries continue to negotiate a deal for a prisoner exchange.
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