Brittney Griner verdict: WNBA star found guilty in Russian drug trial, faces up to 9 1/2 years in prison

MOSCOW — WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been held in Russia for more than five months, was found guilty of drug charges in a Moscow court on Thursday.

This is an emergency update. An earlier version of this report is below.

An emotional Brittney Griner apologized in a Russian court on Thursday as her drug possession trial drew to a close and a prosecutor urged the American basketball star to be convicted and sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison in a case that reached higher levels. US-Russian diplomacy.

With a judge poised to issue an unusually quick verdict later in the day and a conviction all but certain, Griner made a final appeal to the court. He said he had no intention of breaking the law by bringing cannabis oil vapor cartridges when he flew to Moscow in February to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city (of Yekaterinburg) for my mistake and the embarrassment I caused them,” Griner said, her voice breaking. “I also want to apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back home, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing husband back home.”

Under Russian law, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison, but judges have wide discretion over sentencing.

If she is not released, attention will turn to the possibility of a high-risk prisoner swap suggested last week by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to his Russian counterpart.

Griner said she made “an honest mistake” in bringing the vapor cartridges to Russia, adding: “I hope your decision doesn’t end my life.”

Griner said Yekaterinburg, a city east of the Urals, had become her “second home”.

“I had no idea that the team, the cities, the fans, my teammates would make such an impression on me in my 6 1/2 years here,” he said. “I vividly remember walking out of the gym and all the little girls in the stands there waiting for me, and that’s what made me come back here.”

RELATED: US offers Russia deal to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko insisted that Griner packaged the hemp oil deliberately and asked the court to fine Briner 1 million rubles (about $16,700) in addition to the prison sentence.

Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist tried to bolster Griner’s claim that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage by accident. They presented character witnesses from the Yekaterinburg team she plays for in the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed cannabis to treat pain from injuries sustained in her basketball career.

Her attorney, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner only used cannabis in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.

He pointed out that Griner packed up in a hurry after a grueling flight and was suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Blagovolina also pointed out that the analysis of the cannabis found in Griner’s possession was incorrect and violated legal procedures.

Blagovolina asked the court to acquit Griner, noting that she had no previous criminal record and hailing her role in the “development of Russian basketball.”

Another defense attorney, Alexander Boykov, emphasized Griner’s role in helping her Yekaterinburg team win multiple championships, noting that she was loved and admired by her teammates. He told the judge that a conviction would undermine Russia’s efforts to develop national sports and would undermine Moscow’s call to depoliticize sports.

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Boykov added that even after her arrest, Griner won the sympathy of both her guards and inmates at the prison, who supported her by shouting, “Brittney, everything’s going to be okay!” when he took prison walks.

Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as “unreasonably detained,” moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Then, last week, in an extraordinary move, Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on a espionage conviction, would were released from prison.

The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Griner’s direct approach runs counter to US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

People familiar with the proposal say it calls for an exchange of Griner and Whelan for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States. It underscores the public pressure the White House has faced to free Griner.

White House Press Secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday that Russia responded “in bad faith” to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that US officials do not take seriously. He declined to give further details.

Russian officials have derided US statements on the case, saying they show disrespect for Russian law. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without disclosure of speculative information.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Brittney Griner verdict: WNBA star found guilty in Russian drug trial, faces up to 9 1/2 years in prison Source link Brittney Griner verdict: WNBA star found guilty in Russian drug trial, faces up to 9 1/2 years in prison

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