A Moscow court sentenced WNBA player Brittney Griner to 9 years in prison on drug charges, raising the stakes in deadlocked talks between Russia and the US on a possible prisoner exchange involving the basketball star.
Griner, a basketball talent who played in Russia during off-seasons from the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested for cannabis possession in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February.
Her arrest was just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, launching frantic backdoor negotiations between the US and Russian intelligence services as her trial played out in a small courthouse just outside the Moscow city limits.
“The court found the defendant guilty,” Judge Anna Sotnikov said, before announcing the jail term, according to the Interfax news service. Griner was also fined 1 million rubles ($16,300). Prosecutors had earlier asked the court to imprison her for 9 1/2 years, close to the maximum sentence of 10 years.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who appeared in court Thursday for the final hearing in her trial, was facing up to 10 years in prison although 9 1/2 years was the maximum sentence with time served. Griner has a right to appeal.
U.S. President Joe Biden slammed Russia in a statement on Thursday morning following Griner’s sentencing and called on Russia to “release her immediately.”
“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 wrote in the statement. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”