US basketball star Brittney Griner has been convicted in Russia of drug possession and sentenced to nine years in prison after a politically charged trial that came amid soaring tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and could lead to a high-stakes prisoner exchange between the nations.
The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time US Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened with a blank expression as an interpreter translated the verdict by Judge Anna Sotnikova.
Earlier in the session, with a conviction all but certain, an emotional Griner made a final appeal to the court for leniency. She said she had no intention to break the law by bringing tape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.
I want to apologise to my team-mates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, her voice cracking. “I want to also apologise to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organisation back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Under Russian law, the 31-year-old Griner faced up to 10 years in prison, but judges have considerable latitude on sentencing.
If she does not go free, attention will turn to the possibility of a high-stakes prisoner swap that was proposed last week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his Russian counterpart.