Khimki, RUSSIA – American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to a drug charge in July.
Griner, who was in Russia playing basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) off-season, was arrested in a Moscow airport in February after she was caught carrying marijuana vape cartridges into the country, FOX News reported.
The center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury has maintained that she made “an honest mistake” because she was packing in a hurry when she brought vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis that her attorneys have said she used to treat pain.
Russian prosecutors have argued that the basketball player intentionally brought drugs into the country, FOX News reported.
Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charge in July.
On Aug. 4, a Russian judge convicted the 31-year-old Griner of drug possession and drug smuggling, FOX News reported.
She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison and fined one million rubles, which is about $16,400 is U.S. dollars.
Griner issued an apology before she received her sentence, FOX News 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,” the basketball player said.
“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,” she said.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentenced Griner to nine-and-a-half years, according to FOX News.
“I hope in your ruling, it does not end my life,” she told the judge.
Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, attorneys for Griner, released a statement after the conviction and sentencing that said the court had ignored all the evidence and they planned to appeal, CNN reported.
Blagovolina reminded the judge in closing arguments that Griner never actually used marijuana in Russia and had never planned to.
The U.S. Department of State has classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained” by Russia, FOX News reported.
President Joe Biden’s administration made a “substantial proposal” for a prisoner exchange with Russia for the return of the basketball player and fellow American Paul Whelan.
Whelan is currently serving a 16-year sentence for spying.
Russian media has speculated that Russia could be negotiating for the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” FOX News reported.
Bout is currently serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence for conspiracy to kill American citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
On Monday, the White House said that Russia had made a “bad faith” response to the United States’ offer, FOX News reported.
Russian officials had previously said they could not even consider the prisoner swap until after Griner had been officially convicted and sentenced.
President Biden called Griner’s sentence unacceptable, CNN reported.
“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,” the President said.
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” he continued. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
The White House said it would continue to negotiate with Russia for the release of Griner and Whelan, CNN reported.
One official pointed out that it was up to Russia as to how fast the process would move.
“The ball is in Russia’s court” right now, the official told CNN.