Khimki City Court Judge Anna Sotnikova handed down the sentence and fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said the court took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, his remorse for the act, his medical condition and his charitable activities.
Before the verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech.
“I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian people, I never wanted to break the laws here,” Griner said. “I made an honest mistake and I hope in your decision it doesn’t end my life here. I know everyone keeps talking about political pawn and politics but I hope it’s away from this courtroom.
“I want to repeat that I had no intention to break Russian laws. I had no intention. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime,” she added.
Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they would appeal the decision.
“We are very disappointed with the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone, regardless of their nationality. The court completely ignored all the defense evidence, and most importantly, the plea of guilt,” they said in the statement.
“This contradicts existing legal practice. Given the amount of substance (not to mention the flaws in the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly appeal.”
“Today US citizen Brittney Griner was sentenced to a prison term which is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. This is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with his wife, beloved friends and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.
The defense asked for leniency in its closing arguments
In closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney Blagovolina, a partner at law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners, argued that Griner had never used marijuana in Russia and had never had intend to do so. She didn’t need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added.
All this confirms the complete lack of intent in his actions, argued Blagovolina. Although Griner has used medical marijuana before, it was only at her home in Arizona, rare and only with a doctor’s prescription, she added. She couldn’t have known how strict the laws were in Russia, Blagovolina said.
Griner arrived in court in handcuffs on Thursday and was escorted by Russian officers to the defendant’s cage. Once untied, she spoke with her legal team, then held up a photo of the UMMC Yekaterinburg basketball team, the Russian team she played for during the WNBA offseason.
Boykov argued that Griner was not given the opportunity to properly review court documents. He said that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their mother tongue and the free choice of the language of communication.
Boykov cited a case where a language interpreter provided to Griner flipped through a long document offered by an investigator for translation, then told Griner, “Basically, that means you’re guilty.”
The charge d’affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, arrived in court Thursday ahead of the hearing. She appeared in court throughout the trial and said on Tuesday that the United States “will continue to support Miss Griner through every step of this process and for as long as it takes to bring her home to the United States in safe”.
How was the trial
Griner’s lawyers have made some arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and claiming the basketball player’s detention was not handled properly after she was arrested on February 17 by Sheremetyevo International Airport staff.
His detention, search and arrest were “inappropriate”, Boykov said last week, noting that more details would be revealed during closing arguments.
No attorney was present, Griner testified, and his rights were not explained to him. These rights would include access to a lawyer once detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. According to Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.
On Tuesday, at the seventh hearing in his case, a defense expert testified that the examination of the substance in Griner’s vaping cartridges did not comply with Russian law. Blagovolina also told CNN that experts on his team had identified “a few flaws” in the machines used to measure the substance.
At trial, Griner testified that she had a medical prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of smuggling the drug into Russia. After her detention in February, she was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers previously said.
In her testimony, Griner “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them,” Blagovolina said after last week’s hearing.
“We continue to insist that, indiscreetly, in a hurry, she packed her suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances authorized for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of the Moscow Law Center, said.
The trial took place against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s disputes with the United States and Europe.
The Kremlin also warned on Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will not help negotiations for a prisoner swap involving Griner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believed the talks should be “low-key”.
Griner’s family, supporters and WNBA teammates have continued to express messages of solidarity and hope as they await the conclusion of the trial. His WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, is scheduled to face the Connecticut Sun Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET.
CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Travis Caldwell, Dakin Andone, Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler, Natasha Bertrand, Frederik Pleitgen, Chris Liakos and Masha Angelova contributed to this report.