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Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison


Former Baylor superstar, US Olympian, and WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison on Thursday after being found guilty in her Russian trial for bringing cannabis into Russia. The conviction and sentencing mark the expected conclusion to her criminal trial in Russia. It is believed that, although the sentencing appears harsh, that the sentencing being finalized will allow prisoner exchange negotiations between the United States and Russia to accelerate.

Griner was arrested on February 17th after customs service officials said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport in Russia. Griner plays professionally in Russia during the WNBA off-season. After month’s of extensions to her detainment, Griner’s trial officially began on July 1st. Her conviction was considered a formality by many following the case with knowledge of international relations between the United States and Russia.

The sentencing has drawn criticism from US officials, as well as fans and executives in the basketball world. In a joint statement, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver called the guilty verdict “unjustified and unfortunate”, including “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement. “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”, Biden said.

While this is the end of her criminal trial (with the exception of an appeal), there is still much work that will happen in the background as the two countries work out a prisoner swap that is expected to include Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen currently serving a 25 year sentence in the US for charges including conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization. There was belief the Biden administration would not give Bout up in a prisoner, but reports over the last month have stated the administration’s stance has softened, and they would be willing to swap Bout for both Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine and police officer who was arrested in 2018 for charges of spying. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.

As has been said since the beginning of this saga, most of the real work will be performed in the background while the two countries work find a suitable deal that would send Griner home to the US. Hopefully, now that the formality of the trial and sentencing are over, we will begin to see the ending of this life-altering saga of which Griner has been forced to play a part.