A Russian court has sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison. She was found guilty Thursday of drug smuggling, following her arrest at a Moscow airport in February.
"I made an honest mistake," she said. "And I hope that in your ruling it doesn't end my life here."
At the time, vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were discovered in Griner's luggage. Griner and her legal team have maintained that marijuana had been recommended by her doctors for injury pain and that the cartridges must have been packed accidentally while Griner was in a hurry.
"I never meant to hurt anybody," she continued. "I never meant to put in jeopardy the rest of population. I never meant to break any laws here."
Before her sentencing Thursday, Griner expressed remorse, apologizing to her Russian team and adding that it was never her intent to break the law.
"I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, the fans, and the city of Yekat [meaning Yekaterinburg] for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought onto them," Griner said.
Prosecution had been seeking a nine-and-a-half-year sentence, but the judge ruled that Griner's time in detainment could count towards her sentence. Griner's legal team is condemning the verdict, telling media in Russia that they plan to file an appeal.
Griner's family and friends are now hoping a prisoner swap with Russia will ultimately free her. Russia is reportedly seeking arms dealer Viktor Bout as the U.S. looks to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen being held on espionage charges.
Former CIA Chief of Russia Analysis George Beebe told Newsy's "Morning Rush" that he doesn't see the Kremlin swapping two Americans for just one Russian.
"The Russians are quite cynical in how they approach these sorts of things," he said. "They are willing to bargain, but they want bargains to be reciprocal and they want to be treated on the basis of equality and respect, as they see it. So, I doubt, when all is said and done, that we're going to see a one-for-two swap here — the United States trades Viktor Bout, this "merchant of death" that you referred to earlier, for both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. I think the Russians are insistent that a second Russian currently in American hands also be traded. So that's, I think, the thing that we should be looking for in the coming weeks."
In an interview with CNN this week, Bout's lawyer expressed confidence in a trade.
"I'm confident this is going to get done," attorney Steve Zissou said.
Back in the states, the WNBA Players Union tweeted that sports should be sacred, calling on governing bodies to protest. It added that the safety of all athletes competing internationally is at stake.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the sentence is "unacceptable" and called on Russia to release the basketball star immediately.