Russian prosecutors search 9 1/2-year sentence for Brittney Griner

Russian prosecutors requested a court docket exterior Moscow to condemn Brittney Griner to 9 1/2 years in jail because the American basketball star neared the top of a trial on drug expenses Thursday.

The court docket was listening to closing arguments forward of a verdict that would go away consideration turning to the opportunity of a high-stakes prisoner swap between the US and Russia.

In a closing plea for leniency, an emotional Griner apologized and repeated that she by no means meant to interrupt any Russian legal guidelines however had made “an trustworthy mistake.”

Griner pleaded responsible final month to expenses that carry a most sentence of 10 years in a prolonged trial that has underscored the 2 nations’ frayed relations since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February; Russian authorities stated they discovered vape canisters with hashish oil in her baggage.

Griner, a middle for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, admitted the canisters had been hers. She stated she took them to Russia unintentionally. 

Certainly one of her attorneys, Alexander Boikov, informed reporters through the trial that Griner was in a rush as she was packing and that the vape cartridges ended up in her baggage accidentally. 

On Thursday, Griner was led right into a cage contained in the courtroom in handcuffs, carrying a gray-colored shirt. Earlier than the proceedings started, she displayed a photograph of her teammates from the Russian membership she performed for within the WNBA low season.

The prosecutors requested for a 9 1/2-year jail time period for Griner and a 1-million ruble ($16,590) effective, contemplating her guilt totally confirmed, however her lawyer Maria Blagovolina known as it “nonsense.”

Her protection staff known as into query among the knowledgeable evaluation used within the case and stated Griner didn’t have correct interpreter entry throughout her arrest. Additionally they identified Griner’s many athletic accomplishments, together with in Russia.

Her attorneys reiterated that Griner has solely used hashish medically, and has by no means used it in Russia. They requested for Griner to be acquitted or be given essentially the most lenient sentence doable.

As Griner addressed the court docket after the closing arguments, her voice trembled as she apologized to her followers, household and teammates for any embarrassment or injury that she might have introduced on them. She known as the Russian metropolis of Yekaterinburg, the place she performed, her second residence.

“I by no means meant to harm anyone,” she stated. “I by no means meant to place in jeopardy the Russian inhabitants. I by no means meant to interrupt any legal guidelines right here.”

In earlier hearings, her protection staff argued that, like many different worldwide athletes, Griner, a 6-foot-9 native of Houston who performs for Russia’s Ural Mining and Metallurgical Firm Ekaterinburg within the offseason, makes use of medicinal marijuana to assist with harm ache.

Griner’s authorized staff has additionally tried to construct her protection on her picture as a job mannequin, and constructive contributions to world and Russian basketball.

The Kremlin has been accused of utilizing Griner as a political pawn, whereas the Biden administration has been underneath rising strain from her household and teammates to safe her launch.

Image: Brittney Griner
There was a rising refrain of requires Washington to do extra to safe Griner’s launch almost 5 months after being arrested on drug expenses.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

The U.S. authorities has proposed that Moscow launch Griner and one other American, Paul Whelan, who’s serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, in alternate for convicted Russian arms seller Viktor Bout, in response to two sources conversant in the matter.

White Home press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre informed reporters Monday that Russia responded in “dangerous religion” to the U.S. authorities’s provide with one in every of its personal. “We don’t see it as a severe counteroffer,” she stated.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, final week — the highest-level diplomatic engagement between Washington and Moscow because the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February — to induce the Kremlin to simply accept the U.S. provide. Blinken known as it a “frank and direct dialog” however declined to characterize Lavrov’s response.

The Russians responded by urging the U.S. to chorus from hypothesis and pursue “quiet diplomacy” as an alternative.

U.S. officers aren’t anticipating speedy motion within the effort to get Griner launched after right this moment’s anticipated verdict, however say they may preserve urgent for her launch, a U.S. official informed NBC Information.

Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was free of a Russian jail in April, had earlier stated he believed the White Home was not doing sufficient to assist free Griner and Whelan.

In Might, the State Division reclassified Griner as having been “wrongfully detained” and transferred oversight of her case to the its presidential envoy for hostage affairs. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied Griner is being held as a hostage.

President Joe Biden spoke with Griner’s spouse, Cherelle Griner, final month. He additionally despatched a letter on to Griner after she despatched him a handwritten word pleading for assist to get her launched. 

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