Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court delivered 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, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities. Prosecutors had asked that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.
“I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. 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 they will appeal the decision and criticized the court for ignoring their evidence.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” they said in the statement.
“This contradicts the existing legal practice. Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal.”
“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 in a statement.
Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said the sentence was a “miscarriage of justice” and said US officials will work to bring Griner home safely.
Defense asked for leniency in closing arguments
The hearing Thursday began shortly after Griner arrived at court in handcuffs, escorted by Russian officers into the defendant’s cage. Once uncuffed, she spoke with her legal team and then held up a photo of the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team, the Russian squad she played for during the WNBA offseason.
In closing arguments, defense lawyer Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm, argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so. She had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intent in her actions, Blagovolina argued.
Even if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was only at home back 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.
Boykov also argued Griner had no opportunity to properly examine the court documents. He said that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their native language and the free choice of the language of communication.
Boykov cited an instance when a language interpreter provided to Griner flipped through a lengthy document offered by an investigator for translation and then told Griner, “Basically, it means that you are guilty.”
Throughout the trial, Griner’s attorneys have laid out arguments undermining the prosecution’s case and claiming her detention was not handled correctly after she was stopped February 17 by personnel at the Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Her detention, search and arrest were “improper,” Boykov said last week, noting more details would be revealed during closing arguments.
No lawyer was present, Griner testified, and her rights were not explained to her. Those rights would include access to an attorney once she was detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. Under Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.
On Tuesday, at the seventh hearing in her case, a defense expert testified that the examination of the substance contained in Griner’s vape cartridges did not comply with Russian law. Blagovolina also told CNN her team’s experts identified “a few defects” in the machines used to measure the substance.
At trial, Griner testified she has a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia. Following her detention in February, she was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers previously said.
“We continue to insist that, by indiscretion, in a hurry, she packed her suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances allowed for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center, has said.
The trial has played out amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s saber-rattling with the US and Europe.
The Kremlin also warned Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will not help negotiations for a prisoner exchange involving Griner. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believes these talks should be “discrete.”
Griner’s family, supporters and WNBA teammates have continued to express messages of solidarity and hope as they wait for the conclusion of the trial. Her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, is expected to play the Connecticut Sun on 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.