• Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison. 
  • She was arrested in February when airport officials claim to have found vape cartridges in her luggage. 
  • The US has proposed a prisoner swap to free Griner, but Russia has not yet formally responded. 

Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison over drug-smuggling charges for carrying vape cartridges in her luggage at a Moscow airport. 

The WNBA superstar's trial came to a close Thursday, with the judge handing down a guilty verdict along with her sentence. She has been detained in Russian jail since February, when she was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport after customs agents discovered vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage.  

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors recommended a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for Griner, who faced up to 10 years in prison for her alleged offense. Griner had pleaded guilty to the charges against her early on in the trial — which began four months after her initial arrest in February — and her legal team appealed for leniency throughout the July proceedings.

Griner speaks with her legal team from inside a defendant's cage in a Russian courtroom. Foto: REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and the defense maintained throughout her trial that the inclusion of the vape cartridges in her luggage was purely accidental, as Griner forgot to take them out of her bags while packing in a hurry. 

Griner's attorneys also noted that the eight-time WNBA All-Star has a medical marijuana prescription in the US and that she uses the drug to help control pain from long-term injuries — common for many professional athletes stateside. 

President Joe Biden announced in May that the US government was classifying Griner as "wrongfully detained" and later declared a national emergency to help free wrongful detainees. Last week, the Biden administration signaled that it had offered to swap a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for the early release of both Griner and Paul Whelan — a former US Marine also detained in Russia. But Griner would need to be sentenced before a swap could be carried out.

DEA agents escort Viktor Bout (center) off a plane after he was extradited to the United States. Foto: U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images

Russia has yet to formally respond to the administration's offer, but suggested that they are interested in the swap if the US helps to free an additional convict — a Russian national who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for murder in Germany.

John Kirby, the Biden administration's National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, slammed Russia's counter as "a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward." Moscow officials fired back that "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, signaling that the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.

Still, there has been mounting pressure on the administration to get her home, with professional athletes like LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe, and Steph Curry publicly calling for her release.

From left: Nneka Ogwumike, Stephen Curry, and Skylar Diggins-Smith lobby for Griner's return during the 2022 ESPYS. Foto: AP Photo/Mark Terrill

Griner and her team have also been in touch with the Biden administration to attempt to orchestrate a release. Her agent called on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to "do whatever it takes" to get the basketball star home. 

And the Phoenix Mercury center herself has been in touch with Biden via letter, with the president writing to her that "he has not forgotten about her." 

As the trial comes to a close, Griner's lawyer has said she is "quite nervous" for what is to come

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