WNBA Star Brittney Griner Apologizes As Russian Court Readies Verdict

KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — An emotional Brittney Griner apologized in a Russian courtroom Thursday as her drug possession trial drew to a detailed, and a prosecutor urged that the American basketball star be convicted and sentenced to 9 1/2 years in jail in a case that reached the very best ranges of U.S.-Russian diplomacy.

With a choose set to situation an unusually swift verdict later within the day and a conviction all however sure, Griner made a closing attraction to the courtroom. She stated she had no intention to interrupt the legislation by bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil when she flew to Moscow in February to play basketball within the metropolis of Yekaterinburg.

“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,” Griner stated, her voice cracking. “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.”

Below Russian legislation, the 31-year-old Griner faces as much as 10 years in jail, however judges have appreciable latitude on sentencing.

If she doesn’t go free, consideration will flip to the potential of a high-stakes prisoner swap that was proposed final week by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his Russian counterpart.

Griner stated she made “an honest mistake” in bringing the vape cartridges into Russia, including: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

Griner stated Yekaterinburg, a metropolis east of the Ural Mountains, had turn out to be her “second home.”

“I had no idea that the team, the cities, the fans, my teammates would make such a great impression on me over the 6 1/2 years that I spent here,” she stated. “I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls that were in the stands there waiting on me, and that’s what kept making me come back here.”

Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko insisted that Griner packed the hashish oil intentionally, and he requested the courtroom handy Briner a advantageous of 1 million rubles (about $16,700) along with the jail sentence.

Legal professionals for the Phoenix Mercury middle and two-time Olympic gold medalist have sought to bolster Griner’s rivalry that she had no prison intent and that the canisters ended up in her baggage by mistake. They introduced character witnesses from the Yekaterinburg workforce that she performs for within the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a physician who stated he prescribed her hashish for ache therapy from accidents sustained in her basketball profession.

Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner used the hashish solely in Arizona, the place medical marijuana is authorized.

She emphasised that Griner was packing in haste after a grueling flight and affected by the results of COVID-19. Blagovolina additionally identified that the evaluation of hashish present in Griner’s possession was flawed and violated authorized procedures.

Blagovolina requested the courtroom to acquit Griner, noting that she had no previous prison report and hailing her position in “the development of Russian basketball.”

One other protection legal professional, Alexander Boykov, emphasised Griner’s position in taking her Yekaterinburg workforce to win a number of championships, noting that she was liked and admired by her teammates. He instructed the choose {that a} conviction would undermine Russia’s efforts to develop nationwide sports activities and make Moscow’s name to depoliticize sports activities sound shallow.

Boykov added that even after her arrest, Griner gained the sympathy of each her guards and jail inmates, who supported her by shouting, “Brittney, everything will be OK!” when she went on walks on the jail.

Earlier than her trial started in July, the State Division designated her as “wrongfully detained,” transferring her case beneath the supervision of its particular presidential envoy for hostage affairs, successfully the federal government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Then final week, in a unprecedented transfer, Blinken spoke to Russian International Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to simply accept a deal beneath which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.

The Lavrov-Blinken name marked the highest-level recognized contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia despatched troops into Ukraine greater than 5 months in the past. The direct outreach over Griner is at odds with U.S. efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

Individuals aware of the proposal say it envisions buying and selling Griner and Whelan for the infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout, who’s serving a jail sentence in the US. It underlines the general public stress that the White Home has confronted to get Griner launched.

White Home Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the U.S. authorities’s supply, a counteroffer that American officers don’t regard as severe. She declined to elaborate.

Russian officers have scoffed at U.S. statements concerning the case, saying they present a disrespect for Russian legislation. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to debate the difficulty by “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information.”