WNBA star Brittney Griner found guilty of smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to 9 years in a penal colony;

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Griner, a superstar in women’s basketball, has been detained in Russia since February. Officials in Russia said a verdict in her case was necessary before a prisoner exchange could be carried out.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Griner to more than nine years in prison on drug charges coupled with a $16,300 fine.

During closing arguments, defense lawyer Alexander Boikov told the judge that Griner should be acquitted of the charges despite her guilty plea because prosecutors had failed to prove criminal intent. He also argued that Griner’s rights were breached during her arrest, investigation, and trial.

Griner’s case has taken on international importance, and her fate is tied to icy U.S.-Russian diplomatic relations as well as the release of other Americans detained in the country.

That includes a man who was convicted of espionage, a schoolteacher arrested following a domestic dispute involving her Russian partner, and another teacher who was sentenced in June to 14 years for bringing in marijuana to treat a documented medical condition.

Griner tucked in multiple vape canisters containing cannabis oil into her suitcase during a trip to Russia. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury star was detained on Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

She told authorities she had a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis, but because Russia does not allow cannabis of any kind, she was arrested and charged. Following her detention, Griner was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers said.

Griner testified she uses cannabis oil in the U.S. for chronic pain but knew that carrying cannabis to Russia was illegal.

Griner pleaded guilty and acknowledged possessing the canisters but maintained she had no criminal intent and said she packed them in a rush for her trip to Russia to play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team during the WNBA’s offseason. Despite her guilty plea, made in part to secure a lighter sentence, Russia’s judicial system called for the trial to continue.

Prosecutors argued that the 0.72 grams of cannabis found in Griner’s luggage were a “significant amount.”

The prosecution’s star witness was a state narcotics expert who analyzed the cannabis found inside Griner’s luggage. However, the defense team challenged the expert’s findings, arguing it was flawed and didn’t conform to rules.

At trial, Griner stayed inside a metal defendant’s cage, which is customary in Russian courtrooms, and at different times held up photos, including one of fellow WNBA players wearing her name and No. 42 on their uniforms in tribute during the All-Star Game in Chicago.

On Wednesday, a top coach for U.S. women’s professional basketball who once represented Russia at the Olympics pleaded with Russian President Vladimir Putin to “do the right thing” and let Griner go.


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