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Brittney Griner testified before being found guilty in a Russian trial

MOSCOW (WNCN/AP) – American basketball star Brittney Griner, who has been in Russian custody since mid-February, was found guilty on Thursday, the New York Times reports. According to the Associated Press, the judge sentenced Griner to nine years in prison for drug smuggling and possession.

The judge at her trial ruled that Griner was illegally bringing drugs into Russia. That concludes her case, which has reached the highest levels of US-Russian diplomacy.

Judge Anna Sotnikova’s statement before announcing a verdict appeared to herald Griner’s imminent conviction for possession and smuggling of cannabis oil.

A prosecutor asked that she be sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison.

FILE – WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom Tuesday, August 2, 2022, before a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, scheduled for Thursday. That comes nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of US-Russia diplomacy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

At the beginning of the session, an emotional griner with almost certain conviction made a final appeal to the court for leniency. She said she had no intention of breaking the law by bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg in February.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city (Ekaterinburg) for the mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them,” Griner said, voice cracking. “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 spouse back home.”

Under Russian law, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison, but judges have significant latitude in sentencing.

If she is not released, attention will turn to the possibility of a blown prisoner swap proposed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his Russian counterpart last week.

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

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FILE – WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a hearing in Khimki near Moscow, Russia on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Closing arguments in Brittney Griner’s cannabis possession case in Russia are scheduled for Thursday. That comes nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of US-Russia diplomacy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Griner said Yekaterinburg, a city east of the Ural Mountains, has become her “second home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another defender, Alexander Boykov, emphasized Griner’s role in winning multiple championships with her Yekaterinburg team, noting that she was loved and admired by her teammates. He told the judge that a conviction would undermine Russia’s efforts to develop the national sport and make Moscow’s call to depoliticize sport sound superficial.

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FILE – WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner stands in a courtroom behind bars in a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Boykov added that even after her arrest, Griner won the sympathy of both her guards and the prison inmates, who supported her by shouting, “Brittney, everything will be fine!” as she walked around the prison.

Before her trial began in July, the State Department labeled her “unlawfully detained” and placed her case under the oversight of the President’s special envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Then, in an extraordinary move, Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia for espionage, would be released.

The Lavrov Blinken call was the most high-profile contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia deployed troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Direct access to Griner is at odds with US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

People familiar with the proposal say it envisages trading 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 release Griner.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday Russia responded to the US government’s offer in “malicious intent,” a counteroffer American officials don’t take seriously. She declined to elaborate.

Russian officials have ridiculed US statements on the case, saying they flout Russian law. They remained undeterred, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without the release of speculative information.”

https://www.cbs17.com/news/national-news/i-made-an-honest-mistake-brittney-griner-testified-before-guilty-verdict-in-russian-trial-prosecutors-suggest-9-years-in-prison/ Brittney Griner testified before being found guilty in a Russian trial

Dais Johnston

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