A Russian judge handed down a harsh nine-year sentence on Thursday, rejecting the WNBA star’s emotional apology and plea for leniency for the “honest mistake” of bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country last February.
Griner was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling with criminal intent. The judge fined her 1 million rubles, roughly $16,300 U.S. dollars, in addition to sentencing Griner to just shy of the maximum 10 years that she was eligible to receive.
As the judge announced Griner’s verdict in Russian, a translator relayed what was said to the WNBA star. Griner displayed little emotion besides an occasional shake of her head or purse of her lips, but her supporters weren’t nearly so silent.
Standing outside the courthouse, Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice.”
President Biden echoed that soon afterward, describing Griner’s nine-year sentence as “unacceptable” and pledging to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring her home.
“I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden added.
In a joint statement to reporters, Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, called her nine-year sentence “absolutely unreasonable” and said they “will certainly file an appeal.”
“As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” the attorneys’ statement read. “The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.”
The judge’s ruling comes nearly six months after she flew into a Moscow airport and Russian customs officials allegedly found .702 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage. That’s less than the weight of a pen cap or a stick of gum, yet prosecutors alleged it was enough to meet the “significant amount” threshold under Russian law and asked the judge to sentence Griner to nine and a half years in prison.
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