Brittney Griner trial: Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year sentence, WNBA star apologizes

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WNBA star Brittney Griner’s drug trial in Russia entered its closing arguments on Thursday as she awaits her fate after pleading guilty to cannabis possession after oils derived from cannabis were discovered in her bag at a Moscow airport in February.

Russian prosecutors asked the court to hand Griner a 9.5-year prison sentence. The defense then started its arguments. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

Griner offered an apology ahead of the sentencing.

Brittney Griner trial: Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year sentence, WNBA star apologizes

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“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” she said. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”

She added: “Hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

Griner was arrested in February ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although her arrested and detainment did not initially come to light until early March.

Brittney Griner trial: Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year sentence, WNBA star apologizes

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, right, enters a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. 
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Since then, U.S. State Department has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” During the trial, Griner acknowledged she had the canisters with her but had no intention of breaking the law. Her lawyers have argued that Griner had no criminal intent and instead the cartridges containing the cannabis oils accidentally ended up in her luggage due to hasty packing.

Maria Blagovolina, one of her lawyers in Russia, argued that Griner used marijuana for medical purposes. However, Russian officials have said that U.S. laws regarding cannabis have no bearing in Russia.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last week that the Biden administration offered a “substantial proposal” for the return of the basketball player and fellow American Paul Whelan. 

FORMER US MARINE DESCRIBES ‘TERRIBLE’ TIME IN RUSSIA PRISON AS BIDEN ADMIN NEGOTIATES RELEASING GRINER, WHELAN

Brittney Griner trial: Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year sentence, WNBA star apologizes

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner stands in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Blinken said during a press conference that the Biden administration made the proposal weeks ago and is hoping to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time since Feb. 15. 

Russian media has speculated the trade could be for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia made a “bad faith” response to the U.S. government’s offer. She did not elaborate.

Russian officials have made clear that no prisoner swap could happen until a conviction and sentence is handed down.

Brittney Griner trial: Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year sentence, WNBA star apologizes

Closing arguments in Brittney Griner’s cannabis possession case are set for Thursday, nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that reached the highest levels of U.S.-Russia diplomacy.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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Russia has authorized Griner’s detention until late December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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