WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty of large-scale transportation of drugs with criminal intent and was sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday. Khimki city court judge Anna Sotnikova also fined Griner one million rubles, which is the equivalent of $16,400.
WNBA and NBA commissioners Cathy Engelbert ad Adam Silver released a statement calling the sentencing “unjustified.”
“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,” they stated.
WNBPA executive director Terri Carmichael Jackson also released a statement, noting how the sentence was “disappointing” and “unjust.”
“Brittney Griner is a beautiful individual, inside and out. She lives a life in service to others. BG is a global sports ambassador. Her accolades are staggering,” Jackson stated. “BG is an Olympic gold medalist, a EuroLeague Champion, and a Russian League Champion. She is loved by fans all over the world. Given her record of service on and off the court, BG deserves to come home.”
Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, have ten days to appeal the verdict. They noted in a written statement how they will appeal.
“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,” they stated. “This contradicts the existing legal practice.”
During her trial, Griner’s testimony showed how Russian officials broke their own laws when detaining her in February. Officials did not read her rights, nor did they provide a proper translator among other offenses. The verdict and sentence of the case will be released on August 5.
Griner also noted how she was coerced to sign documents that she could not understand by an interpreter.
“There was a lady that was there that they said was an interpreter, but it was more just her telling me ‘surname, sign,’” Griner testified in court. “Really short words. She didn’t explain the content of the paper. I didn’t know exactly what I was signing.”
Since she has been detained, Griner and the U.S. State Department have not been critical of her detainment. She assumed the documents she signed were related to the cannabis cartridges found when they searched her luggage.
Griner had frequented that airport in Moscow for seven years but noticed how there were more people working than what she usually had seen on previous visits.
“There were a lot of custom agents and people behind the scanners that day. It was a little abnormal,” she said.
Griner also explained how she was not given quick access to her lawyer. She had to wait several hours before she was allowed to give a lawyer her personal items. She then was taken away in handcuffs. Throughout this process, the interpreter had problems translating her accusations to Griner.
Griner had no intention of bringing the cannabis with her, however she pleads guilty in the case and takes responsibility for her actions. While the WNBA has banned players from using cannabis, Griner uses medical cannabis due to the many injuries she sustained while competing.
According to her testimony, Griner spent four months in a wheelchair and has no cartilage in her knee. She also sustained injuries to her knee, ankle, and spine.
“The benefits from medical cannabis definitely outweigh the painkillers that they prescribe. The painkillers have really bad side effects,” Griner said. “Medical cannabis, there are honestly no side effects that harm you.”
Griner’s defense team has sent a letter from her American doctor that recommends that she use cannabis for pain.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced how the United States proposed to exchange Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Also known as the ‘Merchant of Death,” Bout was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation that involved American officials. In April 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years for attempting to sell heavy weapons.
The Russian government has since demanded Bout’s release. His attorney Steve Zissou is sure the exchange will work.
“I do have some information about the progress of how things are going … But that information comes from the Russian side as opposed to the American side,” Zissou said. “I’m confident this is going to get done. Look, it’s no secret they’ve been wanting him back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades. That’s not something they’ve ever kept secret.”