Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison over drug charges for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
The WNBA superstar’s trial came to a close Thursday, with the judge handing down a guilty verdict along with her sentence. She has been detained in Russia since February, when she was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport after customs agents discovered vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage.
Earlier Thursday, prosecutors recommended a 9 1/2-year sentence for Griner, who faced up to 10 years in prison for a charge of smuggling. Griner had pleaded guilty to the charges against her early on in the trial — which began four months after her arrest in February — and her legal team appealed for leniency throughout the July proceedings.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and her defense maintained throughout her trial that the inclusion of the vape cartridges in her luggage was purely accidental, as Griner forgot to take them out of her bags while packing in a hurry.
Griner’s attorneys also said the eight-time WNBA All-Star had a medical-marijuana prescription in the US and that she used the drug to help control pain from long-term injuries — common for many professional athletes stateside.
President Joe Biden announced in May that the US government was classifying Griner as “wrongfully detained” and later declared a national emergency to help free wrongfully detained people. Last week, CNN reported the Biden administration had offered to swap a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, for the early release of both Griner and Paul Whelan — a US Marine veteran also detained in Russia. But Griner needed to be sentenced before a swap could be carried out.
Russia has yet to formally respond to the administration’s offer, but officials have suggested they’re interested in the swap if the US helps to free an additional convict — a Russian national who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for murder in Germany.
John Kirby, the Biden administration’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, slammed Russia’s counter as “a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward.” Moscow officials responded by saying “loudspeaker diplomacy” wouldn’t succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, which signaled the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.
Griner and her team have also been in touch with the Biden administration to attempt to orchestrate a release. Her agent called on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to “do whatever it takes” to get the basketball star home.
And the Phoenix Mercury center herself has been in touch with Biden via letter, with the president writing to her. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said the letter expressed that Biden had not forgotten about her.
As the trial comes to a close, Griner’s lawyer has said she’s “quite nervous” for what’s to come.
This report was originally published on Insider.