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Russian prosecutors are asking for 9 1/2 years in prison for Brittney Griner

Russian prosecutors have asked a court outside Moscow to sentence Brittney Griner to 9 1/2 years in prison as the American basketball star Thursday neared the end of a drug-related trial.

The court heard closing arguments ahead of a ruling that could pave the way for a high-stakes prisoner swap between the United States and Russia.

In a final plea for leniency ahead of the expected verdict, an emotional griner apologized and reiterated that she never intended to break Russian laws but made “an honest mistake.”

Griner faced a maximum sentence of 10 years after pleading guilty last month in a protracted trial that underscored the two countries’ torn ties since invading Ukraine.

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Griner, 31, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February; Russian authorities said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in their luggage.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, admitted the canisters were hers. She said she brought them to Russia unintentionally.

One of her attorneys, Alexander Boikov, told reporters during the trial that Griner was in a hurry to pack and that the vape cartridges accidentally ended up in her luggage.

On Thursday, Griner was led into a courtroom cage in handcuffs and wearing an olive-colored shirt. Before the proceedings began, she showed a photo of her teammates at the Russian club she played for in the WNBA off-season.

Prosecutors wanted Griner sentenced to nine and a half years in prison and a million rubles ($16,590) fine as her guilt was fully established, but her attorney, Maria Blagovolina, called it “nonsense.”

Her defense team questioned some of the expert analysis used in the case, saying Griner did not have proper interpreter access during her arrest. They also pointed to Griner’s many sporting achievements, including in Russia.

Her lawyers reiterated that Griner only used cannabis for medicinal purposes and never in Russia. They demanded Griner’s acquittal or as light a sentence as possible.

Addressing the court after the closing arguments, Griner’s voice trembled as she apologized to her fans, family and teammates for any embarrassment or harm she may have caused them. She called the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she played, her second home.

“I never meant to hurt anyone,” she said. “I never wanted to endanger the Russian people. I never wanted to break the law here.”

In previous hearings Her defense team argued that Griner, a 6-foot-9 native of Houston who plays for Russia’s Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company Ekaterinburg in the offseason, like many other international athletes, uses medical marijuana to help with injury pain.

Griner’s legal team has also attempted to base her defense on her image as a role model and positive contributions to global and Russian basketball.

The Kremlin has been accused of using Griner as a political pawn, while the Biden administration has come under increasing pressure from her family and teammates to secure her release.

Image: Brittney Griner
Nearly five months after his arrest on drug charges, there was a growing chorus of calls for Washington to do more to secure Griner’s release.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

The US government has proposed that Moscow release Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia responded to the US government’s offer with one of its own in “bad faith”. “We don’t see it as a serious counteroffer,” she said.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, last week – the highest-level diplomatic engagement between Washington and Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February – to urge the Kremlin to accept the US offer. Blinken called it a “frank and direct conversation,” but declined to characterize Lavrov’s response.

The Russians answered urging the US to refrain from speculation and instead pursue “quiet diplomacy”.

Former US Marine Trevor Reed, freed from a Russian prison in April, had previously said he believed the White House was not doing enough to free Griner and Whelan.

In May, the State Department reclassified Griner as “unlawfully detained” and assigned oversight of her case to the State Department Hostage Affairs Officer. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Griner is being held hostage.

President Joe Biden spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, last month. He also sent a letter to Griner directly after she sent him a handwritten note asking for help to secure her release.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/brittney-griner-sentence-russia-prison-trial-rcna41270 Russian prosecutors are asking for 9 1/2 years in prison for Brittney Griner

Fry Electronics Team

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