Brittney Griner trial: Judge sentences Griner to 9 years in prison

Brittney Griner’s Russian trial on cannabis possession charges is entering one of its last phases.

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Thursday marked the beginning of closing arguments, six months since the WNBA star center was arrested, accused of carrying vape cartridges that held cannabis oil, The Associated Press reported.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia, The New York Times reported.

Update 11:44 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: Griner will serve her nine years in a penal colony, The New York Times reported. Some of the time she’s already served will count toward the nine-year sentence, the AP reported.

Update 11:35 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: President Joe Biden released a statement moments after the verdict and sentence were handed down.

Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.

—  President Joe Biden

But one official said that while the U.S. is pushing for Griner’s release, with that of Paul Wheland, it is up to Russia on how that country wants to proceed.

“The ball is in Russia’s court,” the unidentified official said to CNN.

Update 11:25 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in prison, the AP reported. She had faced up to 10 years in prison.

She was also fined 1 million rubles or about $16,400, CNN reported.

The AP reported that Griner showed little emotion when the sentence was announced.

The judge considered Griner’s guilty plea, remorse, her health and charitable activities when deciding the sentence, CNN reported.

The defense team called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable,” adding, the court “completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly the guilty plea,” The New York Times reported.

Update 11:01 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: Griner has been found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent, CNN reported.

She had less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.

Griner had pleaded guilty last month. She did so to take responsibility and to receive leniency according to her attorneys

Update 10:59 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: Griner has returned to the courtroom for the verdict announcement, CNN reported.

Update 9:53 a.m. EDT Aug. 4: Griner apologized in court Thursday morning at the close of her trial, the AP reported.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, 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, according to the AP. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”

Original report: Griner has pleaded guilty to the charges. But according to the AP, Russian judges have latitude when it comes to handing down a sentence.

During the proceedings, prosecutors asked the court to sentence Griner to 9 1/2 years in prison.

Griner’s attorneys have put up a defense that she did not intend to bring the canisters to Russia but that the cartridges were mistakenly packed. They also presented written testimony from a doctor who prescribed cannabis as a treatment for the basketball player’s pain, the AP reported.

The U.S. State Department said it considered Griner “wrongfully detained” and pledged to push for her release, according to the Times.

If Griner is sentenced to prison, the U.S. and Russian governments may hammer out a prisoner swap.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his counterpart Sergey Lavrov, pushing for a deal where Griner and another American who is jailed in Russia for espionage, Paul Whelan, could be released in exchange for arms trader Viktor Bout, the AP reported.