American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday after being found guilty of drug possession and trafficking by a Russian court.
Judge Anna Sotnikova said the time Griner has spent in custody since his arrest in February would count towards the sentence.
Griner reacted to the sentence with little emotion. She listened to the verdict with a blank look on her face.
Before the unusually quick verdict was announced, Griner made her final appeal to the court earlier today and said she had no intention of breaking the law by bringing in vape cartridges with oil. of cannabis when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city. from Yekaterinburg.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of [Yekaterinburg] for my mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them,” Griner said, his voice cracking, and my amazing wife at home.”
She called it “an honest mistake”, adding: “[I] I hope your decision will not end my life.”
While recapping the evidence and giving her findings, the judge said Griner, 31, smuggled drugs into Russia.
Griner’s translator whispered to him through the bars of the defendant’s cage which was quickly read by the judge.
Prosecutors were asking for a 9.5-year prison sentence in a case that reached the highest levels of US-Russian diplomacy.
Possible exchange of prisoners
Attention will now turn to the high-stakes possibility of a prisoner swap.
Before her trial began in July, the US State Department named Griner a “wrongfully detained”, placing her case under the supervision of its presidential special envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the chief negotiator of the government for the hostages.
Then last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, would be released. .
WATCH | US reveals measures to bring home imprisoned basketball player:
People familiar with the proposal say it plans to trade Griner and Whelan for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States. This underscores the public pressure the White House faced to secure Griner’s release.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that Russia responded in “bad faith” to the US government’s offer, a counter-offer that US officials do not consider serious. She declined to elaborate.
Russian officials scoffed at US statements on the case, saying they showed disrespect for Russian law. They remained unmoved, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without disclosing speculative information.”