Brittney Griner Was Convicted of Drug Smuggling in Russia

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According to the New York Times, WNBA star Brittney Griner has been found guilty of bringing illegal drugs into Russia.

Although the guilty decision was anticipated because Russian courts seldom grant prisoners acquittals, the trial received widespread media coverage throughout the weeks-long trial. It has not yet been determined on a sentence.

The Russian prosecutor argued that Griner knowingly packed the vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage before taking a flight to Russia in February, where she was scheduled to play for the Yekaterinburg team during the WNBA offseason. This was during the final phase of the trial on Thursday.

The counts of cocaine possession typically carry a 10-year sentence, but Griner has already served over six months in prison since her February 17 arrest, therefore the prosecutor asked the judge to impose a term of 9.5 years in prison instead due to the premeditated nature of the offense.

Griner spoke to the judge prior to the decision, apologizing for her behavior and stating that she never intended to break any laws. Griner had earlier entered a plea of guilty to the drug possession charges, and the punishment against her was to be determined in a subsequent trial.

Griner said, “I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my supporters, and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for the error I committed and the shame I caused them to feel” (via the Associated Press). I also want to express my regrets to my parents, my brothers, the Phoenix Mercury organization back home, the incredible WNBA players, and my incredible spouse there.

During the final hearing, Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina claimed that given her role in promoting Russian basketball and absence of a criminal record, Griner should receive the most lenient penalty available.

After the verdict, which increased tensions between the United States and Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine, negotiations over a potential prisoner exchange for Griner were held between American Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, marking the highest level of official communication between the two countries since the invasion.

In exchange for Griner and another imprisoned American, former security executive and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, both of whom the American government claims were wrongfully detained in the nation, the State Department offered to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is currently serving a prison sentence in the United States. The AP claims that Russia responded in bad faith to that offer, though.

Griner told the judge in a statement on Thursday that she hoped the geopolitical commotion around her case wouldn’t affect the court’s judgment. I know that politics and political pawns are always discussed, but Griner expressed the hope that they would not be present in this trial.

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