American basketball star Brittany Griner apologizes ahead of verdict in Russian court

American basketball star Brittany Griner has apologized to her family and her team as a Russian court hears final arguments in her drug possession trial ahead of a verdict.

In her final remarks, Griner said she had no intention of breaking Russian law by bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil with her when she flew to Moscow in February.

“I have made an honest mistake, and I hope it will not end my life under your rule,” she said.

Prosecutors asked the presiding judge to sentence Griner to nine-and-a-half years in prison, and the judge said he had proved his case.

The trial ends nearly six months after Griner’s arrest at Moscow airport has reached the highest level of US-Russia diplomacy, with Washington proposing a prisoner exchange.

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Brittany Griner in the court cell (Evgenia Novozhenina/AP)

A conviction is absolutely certain, given that Russian courts rarely acquit defendants and that Griner, 31, has admitted to having vape cartridges with cannabis oil in his luggage, but judges are given latitude on sentencing. Is.

Lawyers for the Phoenix Mercury player and two-time Olympic gold medalist have employed tactics to bolster Griner’s argument that he had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in his luggage because of hasty packing.

She has presented character witnesses of the Russian team she plays for during the WNBA off-season and written evidence from a doctor who said she prescribed cannabis to treat her pain.

His lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, argued that Griner inadvertently took the cartridges with him to Russia and only used cannabis to treat the pain of injuries sustained in his career. She said she only uses it in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal.

Ms Blagovolina stressed that Griner was packing in haste after suffering a grueling flight and the effects of COVID-19. She also pointed out that the analysis of cannabis found in Griner’s possession was flawed and in violation of legal procedures.

The lawyer asked the court to acquit Griner, noting that he had no previous criminal record and had a role in “the development of Russian basketball”.

Another defense lawyer, Alexander Boykov, also emphasized Griner’s role in taking his Yekaterinburg team to win multiple championships, noting that he was loved and admired by his teammates.

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Antony Blinken talks to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

He told the judge that a conviction would undermine Russia’s efforts to develop a national sport and make Moscow’s call to depoliticize the sport.

Mr Boykov said that even after his arrest, Griner won the sympathy of guards and fellow prisoners, who shouted “Britney, everything will be all right!” When she went for a walk in jail.

Prosecutor Nikolai Vlasenko insisted that Griner intentionally packed the cannabis oil, and asked the court to pay him a fine of one million rubles (£13,500) in addition to a prison sentence.

It is not clear when the verdict will be delivered. If she is not freed, the high-stakes possibility of a prisoner swap will be taken into account.

Before her trial began in July, the US State Department designated her as “wrongfully detained”, transferring her case to the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the chief of government. hostage negotiator.

Last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal that would see Griner and Paul Whelan, an American accused of spying in Russia Was imprisoned, will be freed.

The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest level of known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. The direct contact on Griner is in stark contrast to US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

People familiar with the proposal say it envisions trading Griner and Mr Whelan for notorious arms dealer Victor Bout, who is serving a prison sentence in the US.

It underscores the public pressure the White House has faced to release Griner.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that Russia has “bad faith” in the US government’s proposal – a counter-proposal that US officials do not consider serious. He declined to elaborate.

Russian officials scoffed at US statements about the case, saying they showed disrespect for Russian law. He urged Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without releasing speculative information.”