American basketball player Brittney Griner was given a nine-year prison sentence by a Russian court on Thursday, which U.S. President Joe Biden called "unacceptable," after a jury found her guilty of knowingly importing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia.
After the ruling, officers led Griner out of the courtroom in handcuffs, and he turned to the reporters and said, "I love my family."
Griner was arrested in the middle of February as she arrived to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA superstar.
Her sentencing might now set the stage for a U.S.-Russia prisoner swap between the 31-year-old athlete and an incarcerated Russian who was formerly a prolific weapons dealer.
Griner's case thrust the Texas native into the geopolitical whirlwind sparked on February 24 by Russian President Vladimir Putin's deployment of soldiers into Ukraine, precipitating a new post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian relations.
Griner admitted to possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, but said she had packed them by accident.
She begged a Russian judge not to "end her life" with a severe prison sentence, before the decision was handed down. Additionally, the judge penalized her 1 million roubles ($16,990).
"I committed an honest mistake, and I hope that your decision doesn't end my life here," Griner said in court on Thursday before bursting into tears, as reported by Reuters.
The attorneys for Griner stated that they will appeal a verdict that they deemed to be "totally illogical." Her legal team asserted that the court disregarded every piece of evidence they offered, as well as Griner's guilty plea.
Under pressure to return Americans detained in Russia, Biden demanded that Russia promptly release Griner and stated that his administration would continue working for her freedom.
"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is further proof of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney," he said in a statement.
"This is unacceptable, and I urge that Russia release her immediately so she can rejoin her wife, family, friends, and teammates," Biden said.
Griner was caught on February 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for having hashish oil-containing cartridges in her luggage.
While pleading guilty, she stated that she had neither the intent to import a controlled narcotic into Russia nor to do harm to anyone.